NEW DELHI — Sexual abuse of children is “disturbingly common” in India, and the government’s response to it has fallen short, both in protecting children and in treating victims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.
The group urged the government to better shield children from sexual abuse as part of a broad push for change after the death of a young woman who was gang-raped here in December. Although there are child protection laws on the books, including one passed last year, the rights organization said the measures were not properly enforced.
“Children are sexually abused by relatives at home, by people in their neighborhoods, at school and in residential facilities for orphans and other at-risk children,” said the 82-page report, titled “Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India.”
Yet most cases go unreported. A 2007 government-sponsored study, based on interviews with 12,500 children in 13 Indian states, said that 53 percent of the children reported having been sexually abused in some way, but only 3 percent of the cases were reported to the police.
“Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff and other authorities,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said in a statement.
In response, the government acknowledged flaws in its child protection system, with the head of one government agency saying at a news briefing that in many cases the police or court officials did not accept that rape or incest had occurred.
“People have to be made aware of their rights, the procedures to be followed in registering a case in a police station, and insist that they get justice,” said Shantha Sinha, the chairwoman of the agency, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, The Associated Press reported.
In interviews with more than 100 people, Human Rights Watch found that the police, government officials and doctors were unprepared to deal with child sexual abuse cases and often made the situation worse by…