Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar
Child sexual abuse has always been shrouded in secrecy. In an age where we cringe on the idea of providing sex education in schools or having “the talk” with our children, educating them about abuse is probably the last on our list. It is much easier to pretend that it doesn’t and cannot happen to our children. But, statistics say otherwise. According to a government-funded report along with UNICEF and an NGO named Prayas, there’s a 53% chance that your child may have or still might be facing some kind of physical or sexual abuse. And, there’s a 50% chance that the abuser might be someone your child or you know well.
That a large number of these cases go unreported is not surprising to anybody. At one point, we all have told our children that the neighbour that pulls their cheeks is only trying to show love or the uncle to makes them sit on his lap is only trying to play with them. While we can’t treat everyone around us as a potential offender, the problem is that we tend to sometimes miss obvious signs of abuse. And, the bigger problem is that we ask our kids to ignore them too or worse, treat it as love or care.
Child Line India has been relentlessly working towards spreading awareness in schools around Bombay, conducting workshops and educating the children and parents on safe touch, unsafe touch and various other measures to combat child sexual abuse.
Reporting or recognising abuse is the first step to combatting it and thus, here are some measures you, as a parent, can take to make sure your child is safe.
1)Have “the talk”
Awareness is crucial. Children who face abuse are often afraid of telling or don’t know how to describe it. Educate your child about what kind of behaviour is ok and what is not. Make them aware of who can touch them, especially their private parts – mostly the mother or the nanny should be the only ones. Tell them about safe touch and unsafe touch, and encourage them to come tell you if they ever feel uncomfortable around anyone. Here are some Komal videos by ChildLine India that you could show your children to make them aware.
2) Start Early
Photo credit: Son of Groucho
Most parents feel their children are too young to understand abuse. But, it is also true that younger children are more vulnerable. Child Line instructor, Anupama Kotiankar suggests you show the videos to children who are at least 4-6 years old. But, teaching them good touch and bad touch should begin earlier. “The videos aren’t enough and we can’t expect young children to comprehend them completely. Parents should also have a one-on-one with their children post the videos,” recommends Anupama.
3) Use Real Life Instances
Pose hypothetical real life situations and quiz the child about whether the behaviour is safe/correct or not. Give your child instances like, what if the bus driver or watchman offers to take you somewhere without informing the parent or the teacher, is that a safe situation? Should you go? Gauge your child’s response and teach them what to do if such situations arise. “Keep repeating this exercise with the child at intervals. Children tend to forget easily and so a constant reminder to be aware and alert is important,” says Anupama.
4) Keep No Secrets
Be an active part of your child’s day to day life in a way that they don’t hide anything from you. Always be available and understanding and keep asking the child to share. Most abusers often get away because they threaten the child or give an incentive to the child like a chocolate or a toy, and ask them to not share the incident with their parents. “Always teach the child that when someone tells them not to share something with their parent, that’s when they should definitely tell you,” advises Anupama. “Teach them, it is wrong to hide anything from the parents. Be your child’s confidant.”
5) Trust Their Instincts
We often tend to dismiss our children’s complaints about a certain acquaintance or family member making them uncomfortable. But, children have good instincts while picking who they can and cannot trust. If the child is shy, isn’t talking or isn’t willing to go near a family member or a friend, don’t force them. Let them take their own time to open up to new people. Be receptive and encouraging when they come and share things with you about people they find strange. “Praise them for sharing things with you. Once when my daughter was unwell my maid touched her stomach and neck to check for temperature. My daughter immediately came up to me and asked if it was safe. After reassuring her that it was indeed ok, I praised her for sharing it with me. This ensures that your child keeps sharing instances like these with you,” shares Anupama.
6) Keep your trust circle small
This might sound disheartening but keep a check on who interacts with your child and how – even your closest family members, neighbours or friends. Be cautious about leaving your child with a hired help or a day-care centre. Do thorough background checks before you hire or enrol your child. You can’t be suspicious of everyone but you must be aware.
More than half of the cases go unreported. It becomes especially difficult to report if the offender is a relative or a friend. But, for the safety and well-being of your child, we encourage you to take appropriate action. You can call Child Line India’s 24×7 helpline 1098 to report cases, ask for assistance to help a child you may know and get legal help.
Child Line India is raising funds to spread awareness in schools around Bombay and Bangalore to fight child sexual abuse. You can contribute to their fundraiser here.