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Child Sexual Abuse: Protecting Kids Online And Offline During The Lockdown

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Has the lockdown in the last months exacerbated the already alarming problem of CSA that India has been facing? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) has been a growing problem in India, and the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has only made the problem worse.

The novel coronavirus has hit many lives, rather every life, but some lives are more significant than the others. An increase in the cases of CSA can be further broken down into the environment that a child finds themselves in. For a child from a relatively underprivileged background, in many cases, parents tend to displace their frustrations onto their children. Inability to find work and poor mental health of the parents can often lead to them abusing their children at home, which can be mental, physical or sexual.

While some of us are sitting in the comfort of our couches, there are others who don’t have anywhere to go to. While we are happily surfing the internet, watching our favorite TV series and eating healthy in our haven, some people are dealing with a toxic environment in their own homes.

The world is going through a grim period of suffering. But we need to acknowledge a darker part of the crisis, which is the unnoticed story of children who have become the worst victims.

A considerable disadvantage of the national lockdown in lieu of rising cases of CSA has been that children who had been abused could seek help at school, with their teachers playing the role of a guardian.

A report released by the India Child Protection Fund in April 2020 reveals the severity of the problem at hand. A few days after the lockdown began, there was a 95% rise in the demand for child pornographic content in India on adult websites.

A recent report released by the Child-line India Helpline further exemplifies the increased vulnerability of children to sexual abuse in the last two months. The helpline received more than 92,000 SOS calls asking for protection from abuse, just 11 days into the lockdown.

To meet the increased demand for new material, more children are being sexually abused on camera.  Michael Oghia was on a Zoom video conference with about 20 climate activists last week when someone hijacked the presenter’s screen to show a video of explicit pornography involving an infant.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Telegram, TamTam and Mega said that they have zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation and that finding, removing and reporting such content to law enforcement remains a top priority. People are generally spending far more time at home and online, giving them more time to look for the content of all sorts, including child sexual exploitation material.

A considerable disadvantage of the national lockdown in lieu of rising cases of CSA has been that children who had been abused could seek help at school, with their teachers playing the role of a guardian. Since the stay-at-home orders due to the corona virus outbreak, children who are sexually assaulted by someone in their own homes are in more danger.  The victim and the predator are locked under one roof, and the victim cannot go out due to the pandemic. But due to the shutdown of schools, they have nowhere to go and complain and are living in hell.

There has been a decrease in the number of calls on the CSA helpline number. The victims are scared to use the phone in front of the predators.  During times of closed businesses and looming unemployment, violence against children escalates. The lockdown has affected the economy. Stressed adults take their frustration out on the unaware and helpless generation of society. The root cause is stress due to the crashing economy which has increased anxiety due to an unknown future. But who is to be held culpable?

CSA is not inevitable; we can take precautions and prevent it. The best thing a child can do is communicate with a trustworthy adult about the feelings of discomfort. They can decide the boundaries to be set with the abuser. The adults should be open to the children and allow them to communicate with them whenever they want openly.

Now, more than ever, children are spending time on the internet. Adults need to keep a check on age-appropriate conversations. They should report unsolicited and sexual content. Regular cleaning of caches and history can also help if someone fears that a person is stalking them.

Children can create code-words with someone they trust and use them when they receive signs of danger. They should know all the routes in case of an emergency so that they can go to a nearby friend’s or a relative’s place. They can call the child helpline number too — 1098.

But the government has to step up and take proactive measures to counter rising CSA cases during the national lockdown. With the restrictions concerning the movement of people and services slowly reducing, it’s high time that we also develop a mechanism which designates child care workers to take real-time action when needed.

Amoli Trust hopes to deal with the epidemic of CSA during this pandemic. We hope to stay safe from the virus inside as well as outside.

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 dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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