Several organisations, groups and individuals are coming forward to tackle the issue of sexual abuse of children and are spreading awareness at the school level as they try to teach them the difference between “safe” and “unsafe” touch.
Experts say children continue to grasp societal and social behaviour during their formative years and may not be very well versed with what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. They need to be taught several things to ensure they remain safe, they add.
Data about rising cases of sexual abuse of children in their houses and classrooms and by relatives and friends also stress the importance of teaching children the difference between safe and unsafe touch from an early age.
A report by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) based on the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data revealed that more than 99 per cent of crimes registered under the POCSO Act in 2020 were against girls. This report released in October 2021 also highlighted minors continued to be one of the most vulnerable groups being targeted in sexual assault cases.
Such cases sadly remain common in houses.
Some people have realised much later in life they were abused while playing games such as “pretend to be a doctor” or “hide and seek” as children. While they knew that something was wrong, they weren’t able to point out what exactly was happening to them at that point in their life. This happened largely due to a lack of teaching and awareness about safe and unsafe touch.
“I used to love playing that game (doctor, doctor) until he inserted his penis and I didn’t even know what to call it then,” a child sexual abuse survivor, recalls. “I was completely shocked and taken aback. I trusted him; he was my teenage cousin. I knew something was wrong but I just didn’t have the words to express it. So, I kept it a secret for 30 long years from my parents. I never told anyone about it but I never forgot about it too,” she added.
Public, not private
More and more schools around the world are now educating children about safe-unsafe touch and consent.
“My daughter goes to a playschool here in the UK while I am at work and once, she came home and told me that she was once ‘accidentally’ touched by another girl in an ‘unsafe’ place. I was shocked about the information as well as the word that she used,” a mother of 2 year old girl, who lives in Nottingham, says.
“I called up her teacher and she told me that they had been talking to kids about which are the places where they can touch each other to call or something and which are ‘unsafe’ touches. Due to this, my toddler now knows that it is not okay for someone to touch her down there. They even educated these young children about consent. I think it is very important to teach those things at the elementary level.”
Interestingly, they don’t hold one-on-one sessions but invite all students together for these classes. This shift from keeping it a “hush-hush” topic to talking publicly and openly about it has been interesting and helpful.
“It increases their comfort level around the topic and would make it easier for them to voice if they experience something harassing,” saysa mother of a 2.5-year-old girl in London. “Also teaching them openly will make them into adults who are aware both when in victimisation and as harassers. They will keep in mind that children are taught early on publicly.”
While schools around the world are imparting this necessary training to their students, those in India still lack in this area. “Child sexual abuse is a big problem in a country like India,” says Sayfty’s founder (an NGO that deals with sexual abuse victims) Shruti Kapoor.
“In most homes, nobody is talking about the same. Children spend a major part of their day in schools so, therefore, it is important to bring this topic in a child-friendly and age-appropriate way in schools, because it is really a hub of learning. So, teachers and parents should make a conscious effort to provide children with this information through workshops.”
Kapoor’s organisation conducts “safe/unsafe” workshops in the Hyderabad region. “This is not a one-time conversation. They need to constantly keep reminding children what is a safe touch and what is an unsafe touch.”