Six pm every work day,I am a bundle of nerves. I keep glancing at the phone,willing it to ring. Most days,
I dont wait till it does. I call home,checking if the daycare vehicle has dropped my nearly-three-year-old safely back. It is only when I hear his happy bumbling voice that I know another day has gone by without incident.
In a city,where you have few relatives,you are mostly dependent on the charity of strangers. People who will take care of your child while you are away at work,keep him safe till you return home. And while I am not quite comfortable with leaving my son unsupervised with a nanny at home,a daycare works fine for me. There are enough checks and balances that allay the general paranoia of my maternal soul.
Except,how do you prepare a toddler against abuse?
In our society,we allow strangers to pinch our childrens cheeks and strike up a conversation with them. We egg the child on to tell his or her name,reveal which school they go to and other trivia which,in the adult domain,is personal information. A child prone to Stranger Anxiety quickly brings on (often negative) comparisons with peers who love attention. It is enough to confuse them about the right way to respond. And,in a certain sense,it is more difficult for a boy. At some point,sooner than later,our girls are made aware of the perils out in the big,bad world,but our boys are never really sensitised to gender issues. Some amount of roughhousing is fine,but who draws the line about when its not okay to continue? As a two-and-a-half-year old,if you want to do pee-pee by yourself and dont want the older boys at the daycare to laugh at your clumsy attempt,how does one ask them to stay outside? If it is not okay for your girl friends to change in front of everyone,why should it be alright for you?
It is a grave misconception that boys are not victims of sexual abuse. The first-ever government survey on child sexual abuse in 2007,conducted across 13 states,found out that of the 12,247 children interviewed,more than half (53 per cent) said they had been subjected to some form of sexual abuse. Of those who said they were sexually abused,57 per cent were boys. The perpetrators were mostly known to them within the family,among friends,at school.
When I first dropped my son off at the daycare,he was less than six months old. When all your child is capable of is sitting up by himself and learning to hold his head still,how do you know what is happening when he is among strangers for nearly half a day? I would drop by unannounced,check for any sign of harm on his body,watch out for mood swings. A year later,when he started using the drop back,I made sure I had the contact information and IDs of all the drivers and ayahs who dealt with him. There were people who told me I was being paranoid,and sometimes,in my mind,I would agree with them.
But now,I am not so sure. A lot has changed since the time I was a child,growing up in a sprawling joint family in Kolkata. For one,there was always someone at home to watch over the kids. It is a luxury working couples of our generation often cannot afford. For another,there is a lot more awareness about sexual violence against children among the parents of our generation. It has made us more alert,and perhaps,a little more paranoid too. But Id rather be vigilant than be called in to fire-fight.
As a parent,I want my son to be confident and brave,to trust his instincts and use his freedom judiciously. I dont want the shadow of my fear to become an obstacle in his path. But how do I teach him about privacy so early? How do I teach him to take no for an answer and make others take him seriously?
The only thing that I can do is to make him aware and to give him the confidence to come and tell me about the things that make him uncomfortable. It has been well over two years since he has been attending a daycare. Every morning,as we approach the playschool/daycare,we do our quick checklist: Is it okay for anyone to touch you where you dont want them to? No,he says. Is it okay for you to do the same? No,he nods. Will you go off with someone on your own even if you know them? Will you come and tell mamma if someone scares you? Will you finish your meals? Will you be a good boy in class? And with that,hes off.
It is far from fool-proof,but it is simple. It is something he is more likely to remember,something that I hope will give him a bit more direction about the person he eventually will become.
As for me,I live on a prayer.