Male survivors are a “much neglected sphere” of child sexual abuse, Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said on Wednesday.

“Child sexual abuse is gender neutral,” she said in response to a petition on “Boys who are sexually abused as children spend a lifetime of silence because of the stigma and shame attached to male survivors speaking out. It is a serious problem and needs to be addressed.”

Gandhi also spoke of the “disturbing insights” that a study by the petitioner, filmmaker Insia Dariwala, had found on a “possible co-relation between unresolved sexual trauma on boys and increasing violence on women and children”. Before submitting her petition on, Dariwala had conducted a preliminary research with 160 male survivors of sexual abuse as respondents.

The minister also highlighted the conference organised by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights on International Child Rights Day in November 2017 in which it was decided that the existing provisions for victims of child sexual abuse should be amended to include compensation for boys who have been raped or sexually abused.

“There shall be no tolerance of any form of sexual violence against children, and all criminals will be dealt with severe action,” she said.

Gandhi’s response to the petition comes days after President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated an ordinance to introduce the death penalty for convicts of rape of girls below 12 years of age. While the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 brings in harsher punishments for rape for girls, it does not include provisions to deal with sexual abuse against boys.