In about a month, C. Bhuvaneswari, a Tamil teacher at a Matriculation school, has to tell her class III students a story of a child who was sexually abused by her neighbour.
While Bhuvaneswari is a little worried about how the children will react, she said: “It is very important that children learn about abuse.”
The class III Tamil textbook this year has a chapter called ‘Ipidi nadanthal’ that addresses the issue of child sexual abuse and encourages children to confide in parents or teachers if they have been abused.
The chapter begins with Meena, whose age is not disclosed, being sad in class for a few days. When her teacher enquires, Meena says she is alright. When Meena continues to be withdrawn a few days later, the teacher calls Meena’s mother who says her daughter has been dull even at home. The teacher then talks to Meena alone, and asks her to trust her. Meena then breaks down and tells her teacher she was once left at her neighbour’s house when her parents had gone out. The man in the house showed her photos on his mobile phone, kept touching her, and asked her not to talk about it to anyone. Meena says she did not talk about it to anybody because she was scared that she had done something wrong, but the teacher assures her that she had done nothing wrong.
Teachers, parents, and educationists have welcomed the move, but noted that a lot rests on the teacher’s understanding, and how she/he facilitates it. “I have a daughter who studies in class IV, and have discussed ‘good touch and bad touch’ with her as well,” said Ms. Bhuvaneswari.
G. Vijaya, a teacher at a government school said the chapter was age-appropriate. “There was a question in the ‘think about it’ section in the class IV textbooks on similar lines last year,” she said.
Chitra Prasad, correspondent and principal, NSN Matriculation School, said the school had a student counsellor who could help teachers handle the chapter, and face questions in class. “Initially, some teachers were apprehensive. But children need to be aware about this,” she said.
Educationist V. Vasanthi Devi, said that class III was the right time to introduce warnings and give children a basic understanding of ‘bad touch’. “Considerable sensitisation of teachers is required and it must be included as part of the teacher-training curriculum,” she said.
A school education department official said that teachers were being oriented and that a module is being prepared to help teachers understand how to teach about issues of child sexual abuse and face discussions. “Classes III, IV and V, address the issue in different forms and capacities,” the official said.
However, parents such as J. Rathi, whose son studies in class III in a matriculation school said the subject could be introduced when children were a little older. “While it is an important topic, another example could have been used to illustrate it,” she said.
Vidya Reddy of Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, said what she liked about the story was that it said pictures were shown on a mobile phone to the child.
“Not everybody understands the intersection between technology and sexual violence. The only thing is, children do not easily talk about something like this. In the chapter, the teacher promises secrecy to the girl. Instead, she can tell her that she may have to disclose what happened to someone else in order to get help,” she said.