What is incest?

Incest is sexual intercourse that takes place between individuals related by blood. The act may be committed by a father with his daughter, between a grandparent and a grandchild and between a brother and a sister. Though children of the same sex as the perpetrator may also be victims of molestation, it is not termed as incest because penetration does not take place.

Incest is different from child sexual abuse, since the latter consists of any "sexual" act with the child. This does not necessarily include penetration. Child abuse may include fondling, exhibitionism, masturbation, sexual intercourse or showing of explicitly sexual material. Child pornography (involving children in the production of pornographic material) is also a form of child sexual abuse.

Why does incest occur?

There is no cause for incestuous relations to develop between members of a family. In most cases, incest occurs when a young child is threatened by an older and more powerful member of the family. The older member of the family usually wants to exert and express his power on the child when he is unable to do so under normal circumstances. In a minority of cases, incest may be with mutual consent of both the individuals involved.

There are certain conditions under which the risk is increased. Some of them are:
When the individuals involved have mental defects so that they are unable to comprehend the prohibition associated with the act
When the individuals involved, get into an incestuous relationship with consent and are unable to control their feelings
When alcohol removes the sense of prohibition
When related individuals are separated early in their lives and meet later as strangers, e.g., a brother and sister who meet as adults after being separated during childhood and are unaware of their relationship
Where close relatives live in proximity which gives rise to physical intimacy.

What are the feelings that a child may experience after incest?

A child who has been molested by a trusted member of the family may go through a multitude of emotions after the act. The first feeling that most children feel is denial. The child may believe it to be a bad dream. Fear is another emotion that is experienced almost simultaneously. The child, in most cases, is afraid of the authority of the perpetrator and has usually been sworn to secrecy by the adult. Because of this reason, the child may not be able to share his feelings with anyone.

Children may become withdrawn after being molested. This is worse when the molester is someone the child knows and trusts. She may start having nightmares and may suddenly become very fearful. She may become moody and may have fits of incessant crying. The child usually refuses to discus the problem with anyone for fear of rebuke or harm.

An adolescent may become depressed and may avoid the company of the molester. Some youngsters may develop personality disorders like schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. They may subconsciously blame the other parent for not saving them. Some children grow up to hate their bodies while others may believe that they can be "used" by anybody at any time.

How can an individual be helped later?

Talking with a professional helps most people who have undergone this trauma. This helps to purge hidden feelings of guilt, fear and anger. The victim can join a support group working in the area of rehabilitation of incest victims. A warm and supportive family atmosphere goes a long way towards rehabilitating a victim. Most important is that she should not be blamed for the act and not be made to feel guilty.

What is the legal status for incest in India?

In India, incest, is not an offence. Indian law does not recognize incest as a punishable crime, unless the child is a minor, in which case it is treated as child sexual abuse. Section 90 of the Indian Penal Code deals with sexual abuse of children. According to the IPC, "there is no specific provision in the Indian law as regards to sexual abuse of children by parents or teachers. Such acts are covered by the general provisions relating to sexual abuse of children by their custodian, in whatever capacity they may be.