Male Child Sexual Abuse Rampant in India

17 March 2009

R Ayyappan

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Male child sexual abuse is not just pervasive but also culturally accepted in the temple town of Guruvayur.

This long-held suspicion was confirmed in a study, 'Unholy Nexus: Male Child Sexual Exploitation in Pilgrim Tourism Sites in Andhra Pradesh (Tirupati), Orissa (Puri) and Kerala (Guruvayur),' published by EQUATIONS (Equitable Tourism Options) with the support of ECPAT International.

Both tradition and mythology have played a part to etch homosexuality and male child prostitution in the social consciousness of Guruvayur. In olden times, sea trade was common in Chavakkad and Ponnani areas near Guruvayur. When the men went out into the sea, boys were taken along for sexual recreation. Now, seafarers have been replaced by Gulf returnees. When they return they engage in the abuse of male children, the study notes.

"Discussions with women revealed that they often felt relieved that the men were not getting into extra-marital relationships or seeking female prostitutes." the study says.

Mythology, too, has a role to play. "In Guruvayur, 'Krishnanattam' is a popular dance form. The story goes that as Krishna had a feminine identity in the form of ëmohinií and therefore many 'Krishnanattam' performers are homosexual," the study says. Both these factors have combined to forge an ethical standard that tends to ignore the evils of male child abuse.

Focus group discussions with a number of stakeholders in Guruvayur expose Guruvayur's unholy affairs. Workshops with males having sex with males (MSMs) in the area underline that male child abuse extends way back in time. "Most of the MSMs had entered this commercial activity as children and had mainly been abused by their own relatives," the study notes. Anganwadi workers said child sex abuse, combined with drug addiction, does exist, but also that there were no reported cases. A few reports had come from the beach area of Chavakkad municipality and Kadappuram panchayat, especially from the Blangad beach. The anganwadi workers had conducted classes for boys in these areas.

"Many of the children wanted to share their experiences but were frightened as several reputed people in the community were also involved in the abuse of male children. Over the course of the meeting some of them made the gesture of their hands across their throat to show that they would be in danger if they gave more information. They gave no clue as to who these fearsome people were," the study notes. The DEO office, too, acknowledged there was a dark side to Guruvayur. Discussions the researchers of EQUATIONS had with the principal and teachers of a high school in Guruvayur were revealing. "They said Guruvayur was well-known for both male and female prostitutes. Any woman or girl standing alone could be approached.The school premises which has a big gallery and playground is often used for prostitution." Kadappurm panchayat officials too confirmed that homosexuality was common in the area as well as the sexual abuse of male children. The lodges close to Guruvayur are often used for this purpose. However, the panchayat has not registered any complaints.

Unlike Puri and Tirupati, the study notes that child abuse is less visible in Guruvayur. The study attributes this to the ban on child labour in the state and the relentless drive of the Labour Department to clean the streets of suspicious looking children. This has the effect of shoving the evil under the carpet.