With the first blush of a bleak December morning, Afiya (name changed), a teenage girl puts on her bag and sets off for her tuition centre. She walks through the deserted lanes of her village. As her destination approaches, her heart races and the worry lines deepen on her forehead. A few steps ahead, she freezes and stands still. Two boys, twentyish, walk towards her and pushed the girl between themselves. The girl started crying and ran away from their clutches. The boys’ demonic laugh reverberate the path, she followed. She stride through the lanes, wiped her tears and reached her tuition centre.
Afiya has been going through the ordeal for a month now. Scared of the consequences; which might impact her dream of acquiring high education, She has never disclosed the incident to anyone except her two friends. She has done nothing but cried and hated herself a little more every time it happened.
Like Afiya, hundreds of children have been going through the adversities of sexual abuse but the incidents rarely come to the fore. With the absence of support at the societal level including from their parents, the children suffer silently. The childhood memories leave a long-lasting impact on their mental health for years to come.
Twenty years after getting sexually abused by her father’s friend, Bisma (name changed) struggles to overcome the trauma from the incident. “He worked in a government ration store. He often visited our family on weekends and spent whole days with us. He would call me to the guest room to give me the chocolates, he brought along. He touched me inappropriately. He smelled of mouldy rice and dusty sacks. One day, my brother witnessed what happened and told my mother. She hushed him and called it complete balderdash. I couldn’t understand what that paedophile was doing with me. He continued doing that for many months until I started getting scared at even the sight of him. I would hide whenever he visited,” Bisma said, with teary eyes.
“I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I get scared when someone comes close to me. The man has traumatized me for my whole life and the worst part is that he still visits our home and has the audacity to call me Mere beti (my daughter),” she added.
Nadiya Mir, 22, an engineering student is a founder of ‘Not Afraid’, a non-profitable organization which works on child sexual abuse in Kashmir. Nadiya along with her team raise awareness against child sexual abuse by doing door-to-door campaigns and awareness camps in educational institutions. Just years into the fields, Nadiya has sensed the magnanimity of the child sexual abuse in Kashmir and utilizing all her resources to help every victim as well as survivor.
“I along with my team conducted a number of campaigns in various schools where we tried to raise awareness among the children against sexual abuse by making them understand the difference between a good touch and a bad touch.
“We distributed pamphlets, in which in addition to some information and arguments regarding the issue, we included our contact details. Just few days after the campaigns, I was shocked to hear horrific cases where children were abused by their own family members and their parents did nothing about it,” Nadiya said.
Narrating an incident of child sexual abuse, Nadiya talked about heart-wrenching incident of a three-year-old girl who was sexually abused by her 20-year old paternal cousin.
“I received a call of a wailing woman, who asked for help. She pleaded with me to visit their place. Sensing the severity of the situation, I reached the place. I was dumbfounded when I saw a three-year girl child bleeding. Her mother crying indiscriminately said that she had left her brother-in-law's son to take care of her daughter until she come back from her kitchen garden. She came back to witness her child bleeding and crying. We rushed the child to the hospital where doctors found marks of sexual abuse on her body. We called the police, who arrested the culprit.”
Nadiya claims to have received calls from young girls who ask for help after being sexually abused without letting their families know or from siblings who are unable to help their younger ones while parents don’t pay heed.
“A girl hardly 16 year old approached me and asked to help her sister who was being abused by her maternal uncle. The girl had talked to her mother over this issue a number of times but she never paid attention. I went to their home, talked to the child, and got the abuser there, who later accepted to have abused the child.”
Saeeda Nida Zahra, a clinical psychologist based in Kashmir, while talking about the trauma of child sexual abuse said, “Parents play the most important role in the prevention of Child Sexual abuse (CSA) by various means. But here parents don’t even acknowledge what their child goes through. During the sessions that I hold with the victims, I have realized the ever-increasing barrier between parents and their children.
“Children take a lot of time to narrate their ordeal they face sexually and on the precondition of not letting their parents know. While parents should have been the first to know about it, they never come across the reason of their child’s sufferings and it is because this is how they have raised their child.”
“The victims of child sexual abuse live with the horrible memories for a long time. They even struggle with their relationships and live with a sense of shame and guilt,” Nida Zahra added.