When the mother of J* — a 13-year-old girl — died, the girl was left with no parental support. The father, who lived with J’s step-mother, left her and J began to live with her married sister. There, she was raped by her brother-in-law, after which she came to live in the children’s home.
B*, a 12-year-old girl only found out she was pregnant when the foetus was around five months old. Her family had taken her to a doctor after her tummy started to show, after which the discovery took place. It turned out that her elder brother, himself 14 years old, had sexual intercourse with her. Both siblings seemed to have little awareness about sex and its implications.
These are instances in which child abuse can be clearly connected to a collective failure of society.
In the first instance, patriarchal societal norms allowed the father to abandon his daughter after her mother died, subsequent to which she was raped by her brother-in-law. In the second instance, the dreadful situation may not have taken place if there had been an environment where adolescents were able to get sex education and have conversations with elders about the topic.
The societal failure to provide a secure and beneficial environment for children manifests itself in many ways. These include lack of quality education, abuse within the family and neighbourhood, gender and caste-based discrimination, etc. As per 2011 figures, India has a 93 percent school enrollment ratio at primary levels. This is an encouraging statistic, but actual learning levels continue to be poor. The children with whom Prayas JAC Society deal also reflect this, as their learning levels are far below the level at which they are studying.
Much of the problem boils down to the willingness of the community to tackle this problem, feels Ravi Deshmukh, a former sarpanch in a village in Beed district, Maharashtra. “In earlier times, the village elders would keep an eye on children and take them to task if they were seen sauntering around during school hours. Now, adults get kids to skip school and help them with their work, just so that they can earn a bit of extra money.”