Child abuse rampant in Kovalam: Study



Thiruvananthapuram: Famous as a tourists' paradise, nearby Kovalam beach town has been hit by rampant incidents of sexual and physical abuse of children in the 12-18 age group, according to a study.

Nearly half of the 705 children interviewed during the study in Kovalam and five nearby coastal hamlets had undergone some sort of abuse, mostly by tourists, relatives and their teachers, the study conducted by a women NGO Mahila Samakhya Society claims.

sections, including children of fisherfolk. Complaints were also received from inmates in orphanages and child homes run by charities, project director Seema Bhaskar says.

"The most shocking aspect of the study was that many were victims of continuous sexual abuse, right from the age of nine," Bhaskar said.

14 children revealed they were abused by tuition teachers and others by their elder siblings. 39 were sexually abused by foreign tourists after offers of cash and gifts. In some cases, they were given mobile phones, fashionable clothes and cosmetics, she told a news agency.

Of 705 children, 6.36 percent were physically abused in their homes. This included severe beatings and other such forms of torture, the study claims.

The Mahila Samakhya Society, with support of the state Social Welfare Department, conducted the study in Kottukal, Kanjiramkulam, Vizhinjam, Karinkulam and Venganoor panchayats, besides Kovalam.

"We suspect there is a racket in the area in arranging children for customers who want sex, with the support of many youth who unfortunately act as middlemen," she says.

A consolidated report would be presented to both the Central and state governments next month after analysis and compilation of the data.

On the methodology of the study, Seema said children were given a questionnaire during a workshop held in these areas with the help of local Anganvadis.

Children were first counselled to persuade them to reveal their mental trauma without making them nervous. Classes were also held on matters like child rights, gender problems and various types of child sex abuse, Bhaskar said.

To change the scenario, "a deeper study is necessary to know the link between backwardness, livelihood and educational standards, and the hapless conditions of children," she said.

As part of steps to end child abuse, the organisation has set up 'Vigil Groups' of mothers in the area and made them aware of the rights of children and how to guard them.

Bhaskar said the Tourism department should also send a clear message to visitors that child abuse would not be tolerated.

The NGO plans to run a campaign on child rights in the area and take steps to bring the dropouts back to school, with the support of Education department, she said.

The study was held as part of programme for empowerment of women and girls in rural areas.

PTI