More than one out of 10 female pupils in state high schools in the Indian city of Chennai have suffered physical or sexual abuse, a study has found.
At least 5 per cent of the pupils reported being sexually abused. The attackers included victims' fathers, brothers, neighbours or another relative.
The survey by the Madras Medical College's Institute of Community Medicine covered 300 girls between the ages 15 and 17 who were selected at random. The researchers conducted in-person interviews using a semi-structured questionnaire.
The findings were published in Tamil Nadu state's Public Health and Medical Research journal this month.
Researchers found that 13 per cent of the pupils had suffered abuse. Seventy-two per cent had endured physical abuse while 44 per cent had complained of sexual abuse.
Eighteen per cent reported suffering both physical and sexual abuse.
Slapping, kicking and pushing were the most common forms of physical abuse. Some pupils reported being burnt, tied up or locked in rooms.
Fathers were the most common abusers, accounting for 38 per cent of incidents. Victims' brothers were the perpetrators in 20 per cent of cases.
Forty-two per cent of the respondents said the abuse happened only once but 25 per cent faced it regularly while another 25 per cent said it happened occasionally.
"More than 85 per cent of children stated that they have already identified the first person to whom they may reveal if they encounter any incident," the report said.
It said the victims confided either in their mothers or friends about the abuse, but many stayed quiet as they faced the fear of consequences and inaction.
Children, regardless of gender, are prone to sexual and physical abuse within the family environment in India, crime statistics show. However, the overwhelming majority of victims are girls.
Out of 25,000 cases of child abuse in 2020, only 270 of the victims were male, the National Crime Records Bureau said.
Delhi Police told a parliamentary panel last year that 98 per cent of rapes reported in the city were by someone known to the victim. This included family members or family friends.
Nationally, nearly 96 per cent of the 27,000 rape victims in 2020 were abused by someone known to them, including close family members or friends, with only about 1,200 cases involving unknown attackers, the crime bureau said.
The high rate of abuse within families requires government intervention, said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi group fighting for women's and girls' rights.
“The family needs to start looking inwardly. We talk so much about abuse outside but what about our own homes? Parents should start making homes safe for girls,” Ms Kumari told The National.
“There is a need for a very serious intervention by the government ... giving space to girls for reporting abuse so abusers can be stopped and punished at an early stage."