India is thought to have the largest number of sexually abused children in the world. According to Louis-Georges Arsenault, Unicef Representative to India, one in three Indian rape victims is a child. Studies suggest that more than 7,200 children – including infants – are raped every year, and experts believe many more cases go unreported.
The majority of child rapes are perpetrated by members of the family, but children are also sexually abused by neighbours and figures of authority. A report by Human Rights Watch says many rape victims are "mistreated a second time by a criminal justice system that often does not want to hear or believe their accounts, or take serious action against perpetrators."
Five young girls have broken the silence. Their names have been changed and their faces are hidden to protect their identities.
Five-year-old Nirmala, from western India's Maharashtra state, was raped by her mother's boss. Her mother had given her money to go to the corner store to buy food. While Nirmala was walking the man came up to her and offered to buy her some sweets. He took her to a wooded area behind an apartment building complex, where he raped her. He left her naked and bleeding so heavily she required two operations, staying in the hospital for three months. The man was caught two weeks later, but his family keeps offering Nirmala's family money to drop the court case. Nirmala's mother says they won't accept the money offered by the rapist's family, as they want justice instead. They have since moved house because the neighbours were gossiping, saying things like: "The girl's life is spoiled, what will you do now?"
Eight-year-old Sadaf was raped by a doctor in her village in Uttar Pradesh. She was walking to the market to buy sweets when the doctor, who her family estimates is around 50 years old, forcefully pulled her inside his clinic and raped her. Afterwards she stumbled out onto the street and fainted. When her family found her she was covered in blood. She told them what happened and they went to the police but the police refused to register a case, advising them to compromise because the doctor was offering them 200,000 rupees (around £2,267) to drop the case. The family refused, saying: "They destroyed the life of our child, how can we compromise?" They estimate that they and their neighbours had to go to the police station 10 times before the police agreed to register the case. Sadaf's uncle, who is fighting the case, has taken out two loans to help pay for transportation to the court house and for lawyers' bills. Every time he has to go to court he must take off work from his job as a day labourer.
For five days after the rape, Sadaf bled and they had to shuffle from hospital to hospital looking for one that had facilities that could provide adequate care for her. Since the rape Sadaf has been sick and weak and is too afraid to leave the house or return to school. The family is also afraid to let her leave the house because they say the rapist comes from a rich and powerful family and could harm her or kidnap her. Before the rape she enjoyed going to school and dreamed of being an English teacher when she grows up. She loved to play board games and cricket with her best friend, Nisha, but she hasn't seen her for three months.
Gitanjali, now nine years old, was sexually abused by her father for years. He raped her last year and threatened to beat her and her mother with metal rods if she told anyone. When her grandfather found out, he went to the police and had him arrested. Since then, the whole family and whole village has been pressuring him to drop the case. He says: "Everyone in the village is against me. They say that he's my only son and ask who will look after me and my family? They don't understand that what he did is very wrong. They don't think that it's true. Even my wife and Gitanjali's mother want me to drop the case. I don't know how much longer I can go on, but I know who he is, I know he will never change. If I drop the case it will give him the strength to do this again."
Their neighbours and people in the village tease and taunt Gitanjali and ask: "What will happen to your future?", "Who will marry you now?" and "What will happen to your mother?" They tell her to stop lying. Gitanjali's mother says that even though her husband often beat her, she wants him to get out of jail and come home. "If he gets out he will promise to stop abusing Gitanjali. It's her fault as well. When she would be sick she would stay in bed, she would run around and act childish and my husband would watch her. I told her to stay away from him. She should have shouted when he locked the door. She didn't share anything with me." She says that her husband would often make her sleep on the floor while he slept in the bed with Gitanjali.
Gitanjali says that she feels sad that her father is in jail. She says that when he's around that financially things are better, that he looks after the family and is able to buy them things. She says that everyday her mother calls her a prostitute and blames her for her father being gone.
Dipti, now aged seven was raped by a neighbour more than two years ago when she was just four. When her mother was at the market and her father was taking a shower, the neighbour, who the family says in his mid-20s, found her playing on the roof of her house and raped her. Her father came up after his shower and asked her why her pants were wet, and she told him what happened to her. He took her to the police station where they registered a case. Her family asked the police for medical treatment for her, but the police responded: "Your daughter looks fine, all we need is her pants for the investigation."
Her family says that the community is torn – many people support them, but many others sympathise with the rapist because he is the only male of the family, and if he goes to jail they say no one will be able to financially support his family. He was in jail for a year and a half, but now he is out on bail, and has offered the family 80,000 rupees (about £900) to drop the case. After the rape, Dipti stayed home from school for a couple of weeks because people were approaching her on the road to school, threatening to attack her brother unless her family dropped the case.
Fifteen-year-old Priyanka was raped by a neighbour last year. She said he had been harassing her for a long time and then one night he arrived with friends on motorcycles and threatened to kill her if she didn't get on his bike with him. He took her to a friend's house and raped her. For 10 days the police refused to register a case against him and when they did, they held her for two days in the station until she agreed to say in the statement that she went willingly with the him. Priyanka and her family say that he comes from a rich, influential family.
The people in her village gossip, they say that she ran away willingly with him and that she did bad things. After the rape he continues to harass her, sending his friends to tell her that if he sees her he will kill her, that he will come and kidnap her sisters, that he will kill her father. Recently the rapist and his friends saw her father on the road and they beat up him. Two weeks ago Priyanka was wed to a 22-year-old man in a marriage that her family arranged for her. They were worried about her safety and Priyanka thought that she would be safer if she was married and living in a different village. Her husband doesn't know about the rape, and the rapist has sent letters to her home threatening to tell her new family and break up the marriage. "I feel angry. There's nothing left in me," Priyanka says.