How to protect children from sexual abuse?
“Eleven arrests in three weeks raise alarm over rising child sexual abuse in Kerala.” “The number of cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act has gone up each year.” These were the painful, shocking and depressing headlines from most of the newspapers just after a week of we celebrating World Women’s Day with great pomp and show. These incidents have raised concern about the safety of children in the state with the country’s highest literacy rate (94%, according to Census 2011).
More worrying is the official data of the Crime Records Bureau of the Kerala Police. It shows that 2,093 cases were registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act in 2016, a sharp rise from the 1,569 cases in 2015 and 1,002 cases in 2013. This year, 149 cases were registered in January alone. I have always wondered; all these facts and figures are good to create awareness or rather fear among the people about the alarming problem in the society. Now if there is a problem, there must be a solution, who has the solution to this? The government? Officials? NGOs? Society? Each one has their role to play which is equally important but then if unfortunately, a child goes through this abuse, after the child it is the parents who are effected the most, both emotionally and socially.
In my opinion as parents, it is a choice which we must be prepared to make to teach our child on how could he/she be abused and what could be done to prevent this abuse. Most of the times, many of us neglect these pieces of news as media hype or we ignore the probability of such incidents happening with our own child, I would pray and wish that no child goes through this but our child is no special child, needs to be raised and equipped to fight against all odds. I have also observed that in most of our families, talking about our bodies, talking about sexuality, even loud usage of the mere word sex is a crime. People who come from good families are not supposed to talk or discuss about sex, this mindset and approach is what encourages our children to search out for information that he / she fails to get from home. It is for you to decide, who is the best to educate your child, you, the internet, TV, friends or some strangers willing to take advantage?
You must be thinking what has sex education to do with sexual abuse, why am I intending to sex education instead of self-defence techniques for girls. It is because in most of the child abuse cases, the poor child did not even know that she was being abused, she did not even have a clue of what was happening to her. Had she been told to identify the difference between the good touch and bad touch, maybe she would have made her attempts to scream or at least make some efforts to safeguard herself. Parents, Teachers and Schools have a major role in educating our children about their bodies, their safety and about the people surrounding them. It is only with a team effort that we can curb this scrupulous offense. Here are few suggestions for parents on what and how could they communicate to their child at different stages of their development:
Beginning a conversation about sex early and continuing that conversation as the child grows is the best sex education strategy. It lets parents avoid giving one big talk when the child reaches adolescence, when it may already be too late.
Give age-appropriate answers
This means explaining things in a way that your child can understand given their age. There is no need to answer questions they haven’t asked. Don’t overload them with information. They will glaze over and nothing will get through.
Try to keep the exchange as a dialogue
When kids ask questions about sex, gently throw questions back at them. Find out what they know already and where they heard it from. This way, you can correct any misinformation from the start. Dialogue slows conversation down, giving you time to think, and lets you have a better idea when to stop.
Children can often figure out when parents are not telling them the truth. If this happens, children are less likely to be receptive in the future.
Do not worry if you do not know the answer yourself. Tell your child that the question was a good one, that you do not know the whole answer, and that you can both look up the answer together. Again, this helps slow the conversation down.
Everyday moments are key
Use everyday opportunities to discuss sex. Teachable moments are everywhere. If there's a pregnancy in the family, talk about how a baby develops inside a woman's body. If you see a commercial for a feminine hygiene product, use it as a springboard to talk about periods. If a couple on a TV show begin dating, talk about relationships and falling in love.
Take your role in sex education seriously. Encourage your child to take care of his or her body, develop a healthy sense of self-respect, and seek information from trusted sources. Your thoughtful approach to sex education can help your child develop a lifetime of healthy sexuality.
I understand many of us could be uncomfortable in talking about all these as we were not raised this way but I would strongly recommend, even if you're uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you're setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come. A few more suggestions what to tell your child about sexual abuse? How to identify the good and the bad touch? How to identify strangers with not so good intend in the upcoming articles in this column.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)