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New law puts spotlight on India child abuse

Activists say cultural attitudes and red tape have allowed child abuse to run rife in India. But a new law seeks to change that by bringing abuse to light.

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The abuse started when Jyoti was 9-years-old. Her sister's husband would take her on car rides promising ice cream. But the trips always ended with him fondling her, demanding kisses, and more. By the time she was 18, he was abusing her weekly and threatened to kidnap her if she told anyone.

She eventually told her parents, but, as she expected, they did nothing. Going to the police was unthinkable for a middle-class Indian family worried about public ridicule and preserving the honor of its women. 

Then, years later, she saw bite marks on her 4-year-old daughter’s armpits, cheeks, and genitals. Jyoti learned her husband was molesting their child. This time, she says, “I did not keep quiet.”

But in trying to protect her daughter and press charges against her husband, Jyoti says, she found out how difficult it is in India to take action against child abuse. Police scoffed when she filed a complaint. Doctors warned that if she pursued legal action, her daughter risked social stigma that would prevent her from being able to find a husband.

“At every stage I was dissuaded,” Jyoti says in English from a New Delhi abuse shelter where she and her daughter go for counseling. She eventually got her case to a court after three years of effort. But “the first thing the judge told me was these things don’t happen in India. They only happen in America and Europe.”

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