By Richa Shukla:
A recent report states that one out of every two children in India is sexually abused. News these days is flooded with child abuse cases. It is an alarming situation and we all need to act on it sooner than later. Child abuse has many forms: physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, and exploitation. Any of these that are potentially or actually harmful to a child’s health, survival, dignity and development can come under the purview of abuse.
Children were often dependent on an elder person for their requirements and were never considered as an individual with an energy to talk for themselves. Their needs and desires to do or not do a particular thing were considered as childish behaviour. Hence elders just neglected them, which resulted to be the root cause of the problem. Children continue to face abuse in some form or the other, at the hands of strangers or family members, without understanding the power vested in them to prevent this abuse.
This often leads them to restrict their discomfort to themselves because they are not made aware of the power of consent and the power of saying ‘No’.
First and foremost it is important for children to understand what child abuse is. Often, children may not report an incident as they are unaware of it. While the Constitution guarantees many rights to children, they are often not used for their benefits. They need to be empowered by the knowledge and sensitised about unsafe and unwanted touch. They need to be assured that they can express themselves freely. They should be taught that an unsafe touch is that which causes physical damage and an unwanted touch creates a sense of discomfort.
Saying ‘No’ to any act that seems unsafe or is causing discomfort is a basic right of every individual and it is important to educate children as well about this, right from the early years. It is common to witness adults kissing and hugging children, without realising their comfort to such touch. We tend to ignore it, but such ignorance is capable of proving fatal to the child as such incidents of uncomfortable touch or abuse can have grievous and long-lasting reflection on a child’s psychological, behavioural, physical and interpersonal well-being.
Here are some ways in which caregivers can educate children about the power of consent.
Seek And Give Permission: It is critical to educate children and tell them that they own their bodies and their consent is important for anyone to touch them, even if it is a close relative or a friend. It is equally important to teach children to seek permission, even from their friends, before touching them. This will enable them to learn and build the habit of taking and giving consent.
Know When To Say ‘No’ And ‘Stop’: It’s important to explain the child about the power of saying ‘No’ and ‘Stop’. Through a regular and friendly channel of communication, children can be encouraged to express themselves. In simple words and actions, parents need to apprise children that if anything or anyone that makes them feel uncomfortable or bad, they must firmly and clearly say ‘NO’ or ‘STOP’ to that person or to that situation if it arises. Sometimes explaining this to the child can be difficult and this is where parents can take help of educational videos available online, like the ‘I Heart Elmo’ segment of Galli Galli Sim Sim where Elmo learns about the power of consent from his dad.
Reporting To A Trusted Adult: Always maintain communication with kids so that they feel comfortable in sharing anything and can always report any incident that makes them uncomfortable to a trusted adult. This may be their parents, caregivers or educators. You can speak to the child and try to understand their problems and help them identify the trusted adult to whom they can speak to. Listening is important – pay attention to kids when they are reporting any such things, give them confidence and assure them that it is not their fault.
‘The Swimsuit Rule’: Establish this rule for your child which means that the body parts which are covered under a swimsuit are private and they should not be touched without one’s consent. Children should also be taught that only their parents and known caregivers can touch these parts, purely with the intention to keep them healthy. If anyone violates the swimsuit rule, the child must say “No” or “Stop”.
Childhood is the most blissful time of one’s life. This beautiful phase of a child’s life should not be shadowed by the fear of abuse. As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to increase our awareness on this issue and empower our kids to stand-up for themselves and say “No!”
Richa Shukla is a content expert at Sesame Workshop India