According to National Crime Records Bureau, every 15 mins a child is sexually abused in India. Most of them are abused by people known to them.
A child sexual abuse survivor, Nusrat Khan Pahade started the Cactus Foundation to raise awareness about the issue and teach children the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch. By urging the country to break their silence on the issue, Nusrat wants to give children a healthy and safe childhood.
“My uncle, my father and my grandfather keep shoving their hands into my private parts,” a our-year-old says.
Even though NCRB data shows that a child is abused every 15 mins, when it comes to sex and sexuality, “we just want to brush it under the carpet,” shares Nusrat Khan Pahade.
A mother, survivor and fighter, Nusrat wants to ensure that no child has to go through the trauma of the horrendous act. She founded the Cactus Foundation. The aim of the organisation is to raise awareness about the issue and break the silence. For more than 16 years, volunteers mostly housemakers who are part of the core committee, have been raising awareness about the issue.
People like Rameshwar Madhukar Irabatti is a part of the team. He focuses on videography and photography and also works as a key-trainer. Even Nusrat’s mother helps her out with discussions about the issue at home.
Children need a voice
The most challenging aspect of fighting the evil that is child sexual abuse is that people refuse to believe that it exists. There are many families that try to shush their children about the abuse.
“Since the perpetrators are usually known to the families, the members will urge to bury the issue,” says Asif Iqbal, the principal of a school partnering with Cactus.
“If it’s a female child for example, the family worries about what the society will think, or whether people will look at her with the wrong intentions. But people should remember that it is not the child’s fault. It is the fault of the cruel wrongdoer,” he added.
Quite contrary to popular belief, boys are equally susceptible to sexual abuse as girls. In a 2007 report on child abuse in India by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, 52 per cent to 60 per cent of children who were sexually abused were boys.
Citing this figure in another report published in 2017, researchers found that boys were simply expected to outgrow the experience of sexual abuse due to their “superior” gender. This, they said, was holding them back from receiving psychiatric help.
What gives the perpetrators courage to keep on committing the heinous act? The families who continue to push their boys or girls to keep mum.
Voices are getting louder
Cactus is working with parents, schools to make sure that the helpless voices are never shushed. This is allowing them to have a conversation which would have been otherwise avoided.
Cactus teaches them what is ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ touch. They tell people what needs to be done in a situation like that. They also tell people what pertains to sexual abuse. The physical act of touching is not the only act that is considered ‘sexual abuse’.
According to The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, making a child watch objectionable content, and making any form of inappropriate gestures or sounds with sexual intent, is a form of sexual abuse. They start with educating the children.
Wahida Begum, a teacher with a partnering NGO, has noticed the positive results of such conversations. “The children now know the difference between a safe and unsafe touch. They no longer feel shy or ashamed to share about the issue, and know what to do,” she says.
She adds: “Now they tell us: ‘We will tell our parents. If they don’t listen, we will tell the teachers. We will speak until someone listens.’”
The voice keeps getting louder. In February 2017, 20,000 teachers, parents, children and other concerned citizens marched on the streets of Solapur urging people to “break the silence” and speak up about the evils of child sexual abuse.
“At the end of the day, it is just the first step we are taking to try to create this awareness,” says Nusrat. “Maybe not this generation, but I’m sure the next generation will be bold enough, will be courageous enough to fight and stop child sexual abuse, and to talk about it.”
It would provide hope that in spite of what they endured, these brave children are not only able to survive, but also bloom.
Just like a cactus.