“Kya aap jaante hai baal yaun shoshan kya hota hai (Do you know what child sexual abuse is)?” Asked Faraz, one our volunteers at Shakurpur village, Delhi, to a gathering of parents. There was silence. One person raised his hand to answer. For the young volunteer, it was a ray of hope that at least somebody knew. The reply came, “Kya aap sarkar ke dwara chala gaya shiksha abhiyan ke baat kar rahe hain (Are you talking about the government campaign for education?)” We all were mute for few seconds.
At Our Voix, a youth lead organisation, we work on primary prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA), i.e., preventing the abuse before it occurs. We organise free public awareness programs for children, parents, college students, and others as well. We observe that there are still people like the residents of Shakarpur who are unaware about such issues. The unawareness is not limited to only underprivileged children but among parents from upper middle class too.
Shakarpur is not the only example. Street blogging on the road of Connaught Place, we asked a father of two children, what is child sexual abuse? He answers, abuse is when children use bad language.
At another workshop, a lady in her 50s kept wondering “How could a boy be abused? Is it real?”
A grandmother listening carefully to our volunteers, after a lot of laughter, silence, giggle and hesitation, openly pronounced the correct names of her private parts.
A mother of a 5-year-old asked us during our workshop, “Ma’am, how can I teach my children at such a young age about where babies come from?”, and then followed giggle and laughter by other women in the workshop.
At a workshop with elite class parents, Our Voix team asked mothers, “Who will be the person whom the child will approach after abuse, whether it would be his mother or friends?” All the mothers confidently said it it’s obviously mother. However, the harsh reality is that it is not the mother.
These are the situations we come across during our preventive awareness workshops on child sexual abuse.
CSA is a matter of concern due to the magnitude of the problem. As per the report, “Crime in India (2016)”, by National Crime Record Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, the crimes against children have increased to 106,958.0, and 34.4% of the cases were of child abuse. This is just tip of the iceberg since a major number of cases go unreported. Crucial reasons for this could be that children are not able to identify abuse, if identified, they are not able to disclose it, and if disclosed, the family does not take any action. The harsh reality is that it is not just children who are unaware, but also the parents. And hence, preventive awareness.
At the start of Our Voix sessions, participants are hesitant and either lack knowledge or have incorrect knowledge about sexual abuse with children. Most of the parents didn’t know what to teach and how to teach their children about the sensitive issue of abuse. How to handle disclosure? Where and how to report the abuse?
Our workshops help them to break the hesitation and provide them with the correct knowledge about a topic which is swept under the carpet in our society. Women were re-empowered and given tools to empower their children, and other women too.
A crucial part in our programme is the bridge created between the mother and child to help them talk about such issues without being uncomfortable. They are imparted the knowledge to handle disclosure, symptoms of abuse, mandatory reporting, and more. We conduct these workshops in slums, and NDMC-aided schools, for children, parents, and students.
While conducting workshops we face a lot of challenges such as rigid nature of parents. People we meet in slums still believe that giving such knowledge will increase ‘desire’ in young children. Sometimes authorities inform us that they will allow us to conduct the session only with girls and mothers but not fathers. There are times when we have taken these workshops on the roadside, in slums, in places where all they have is barren land. Moreover, when we dig deep into a problem, we realize there are several problems interlinked with it: lack of child-friendly legal mechanisms, lack of knowledge among parents about the role of the police, and poor mechanism of medical examination in the state-run facilities which leads to re-traumatisation of the child survivor.
It is rightly said by John Caldwell Holt, American author, and educator, that “Modern childhood is no more a happy, safe and innocent place for our children due to increasing cases of abuse”. However, Our Voix is working to prevent CSA and protect the rights and dignity of children from getting shattered.
Preventive awareness plays a crucial role in checking the crime before it actually happens. We are spreading awareness among parents and help them protect their little ones. It is just the beginning, and we have a long way to go to reach out to every child and make sure that every child and parent starts the talk on such issue.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.