Vol. 5 Num 994 Sun. March 18, 2007  

'Almost half of Indian children suffer physical abuse'

Almost half of Indian children surveyed for a landmark national study were physically, sexually or economically abused, according to leaked results.

One quarter of almost 17,000 children and young adults surveyed had been sexually abused, many by relatives, while 40 percent had been beaten, many by persons in authority, the results showed.

The survey is part of the first comprehensive study of child abuse in India, a child welfare official said on Saturday, but would not comment on the findings, which are not yet public.

However, national news magazine Outlook, which has obtained a copy of the study, reported that "close to 50 percent of the respondents spoken to have suffered some form of abuse."

"Twenty-five percent of the children have suffered sexual abuse. In more than 30 percent of the cases, relatives of the child are involved," the magazine said. The same findings were reported in the Hindustan Times daily.

Forty percent of the children in the study, which the government plans to release at the end of March, had been beaten, the media reports said.

The beating figures were even worse for children in the capital New Delhi.

"Nearly 71 percent have been physically beaten by persons in position of authority," the Outlook report said.

"In more than 56 percent of the cases (in New Delhi), the beating resulted in bleeding," it said.

The study also said 60 percent of those children surveyed had suffered economic abuse which included forced labour.

The study was conducted in 13 states by Indian non-governmental group Prayas and backed by the UN's child welfare agency UNICEF and Save the Children Fund.

Children, chosen at random, were questioned on the street, at jobs, in schools, in institutions and in their own homes.

The study would shed much-needed light on the nature and extent of child abuse in India which was under-reported to government authorities, the project's leader told AFP.

"The numbers indicated in the National Crime Records Bureau, these numbers are actually no indication of the actual figures," said Amod K Kanth, a senior police officer and co-founder of the child welfare group Prayas.

According to the bureau, 14,423 crimes were committed against children in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available. These included 3,542 rapes.

"Sex abuse is much more prevalent in India than what is thought," Kanth said, citing his experience from 20 years of working with children.

"Almost all the children who happen to be destitute are abused."

Kanth said sex abuse also occurs in affluent homes where -- because of greater privacy -- it is less likely to come to light.

A child may sometimes be the victim of more than one kind of abuse, he added, with economic exploitation paving the way for beatings or sexual assault.

Some 12.6 million children between the ages of five and 14 work, according to figures from India's last census in 2001.

As many as 35 million children are in need of protection from the government Kanth said, adding that the government spends less than one percent of its budget on child protection services.

Loveleen Kacker, an official at the Department of Women and Child Development, hailed the study.

"It's the first study at the national level we have done to understand the extent and magnitude of child abuse," she said.

UNICEF said this week it hoped the study prompted action to combat child abuse.

Of India's more than a billion people, almost 40 percent are aged under 18.