Today being the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse, let us spare a thought on how to retain the trust and innocence of childhood.
Many of us reading this may have fond memories of our childhood - times when we were care-free and could laugh and play the whole day, when we were surrounded by love and dreams. In fact, there are many times when I've heard people say, “I miss my childhood. I wish I could be a little child once again”.
However, as much as we'd like not to believe it, there are many children who wake up everyday, wishing they didn't. All over the world, there are children who are beaten, starved, raped and put through so much torture, that they are left scarred for life. “The hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes” – Carson McCullers. A good many psychologically related disorders are thought to have their roots in severe child abuse.
A day to understand
November 19 is commemorated as the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse, and one form of this devastating cruelty is child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is the use of a child for sexual gratification by an older or more powerful person. It includes forcing a child to engage in any type of sexual act, including non-contact acts such as exposing one's private body parts, etc. Sadly, many people here are under the misconception that child sexual abusers are the psychopaths we see in movies, people who “look” weird and prey on unprotected children. This leads them into falsely thinking that as long as their child is at home or at school he/she is safe. They couldn't be more wrong.
Around 95 per cent of the abusers are well known to the victim, and in most cases it is a family member or a close family friend. The abuser can be a parent, relative, teacher, servant, driver, baby sitter, neighbour, etc, the bottom line being, someone whom the child trusts. It is this trust factor that prevents many children from reporting abuse as many are coerced or threatened into silence. The few children who do complain may be rebuffed by parental disbelief.
Over the past few years, there have been a lot of people and organisations who are working towards spreading awareness, preventing and healing child sexual abuse in India. Their efforts are quite apparent in the numerous awareness campaigns, poster exhibitions, rallies, movies, documentaries, books, etc that address this social crime. However it is disheartening to note that many people are still pretty ignorant when it comes to child sexual abuse. “It could never happen to my child,” they think. Of course, no parent would ever wish for such a thing to happen, but we must realise that only if we are aware of the problem, can we identify it in the first place (by recognising the symptoms of abuse and by believing complaints of abuse). “Ignorance is NOT bliss” when we are dealing with abuse.
As mentioned, creating awareness is the first step towards rooting out this evil. This would include talking openly about child sexual abuse instead of hushing it up and treating it like a taboo subject. Elaan - Chennai is a branch of the Kolkata-based NGO with the same name (Elaan in Urdu means ‘announcement'). Begun recently in August 2008 with two law students Kirthi and Anjali as its representatives, Elaan has taken up a four point program in its fight against child sexual abuse.
The Purple Angel Campaign: Covered by the NXg earlier, this campaign involves making and selling bookmarks of the Purple Angel. The reason it is so named is that purple is the colour of CSA and an angel is the symbol of hope. The handmade bookmarks are sold for Rs.5 and the funds garnered will be put to use for a future awareness campaign. The bookmarks are used as a tool to spread awareness as it gets people talking about CSA, i.e. it is a good way of broaching the topic.
The Petition Campaign: This involves getting signatures for an online petition, asking for a law against child sexual abuse. Till date, there is no law punishing Child Sexual Abuse, apart from Sec. 375 of the IPC, which deals only with rape. The petition will be printed and sent along with a draft legislation made by the volunteers at Elaan, to the Law Commission of India and the Law Ministry. The URL for the online petition is http://www.gopetition.com/online/29355.html and the more the signatures, the stronger the campaign will be. For those of you who were wondering “What can I do to help out?”, signing up is something everyone can do!
The Legislation Campaign: This campaign is research based and involves preparing a rough draft of a piece of legislation, dealing with what exactly should feature in a law condemning child sexual abuse. This will then be submitted to the Law Commission of India and the Law Ministry.
Capturing Awareness Campaign: Elaan wishes to create a collage of photographs of people with either the purple ribbon on, or with a purple angel bookmark in hand, indicating that awareness is being slowly but surely spread.
Apart from this Elaan is planning to conduct a two-hour workshop called “Heal Yourself”. This will be open to survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (as well as anyone interested), where they will be taught techniques to heal themselves from their traumatic experiences. For more details on any of these campaigns, you can mail Elaan at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In conclusion, I'd like to remind you that our fight against CSA should not be restricted only to November 19, but it's a battle we'll have to fight everyday. If we persist together, I'm sure we can ensure that ALL children enjoy their God-given right of a happy childhood.
Cassandra is a III Year student of B.Sc Psychology at WCC.