In middle-class homes, neglect of children begins at infancy with parents spending little quality time

Vivek is just one-and-a-half-year-old but his parents are already pulling all strings to see their son gets admission into pre-KG in a ‘popular school'.

Paediatricians say a majority of the mothers of such children are homemakers who think a play school/day care centre would engage the child better. But, in the process they are depriving the child of non-formal communication.

Going by these examples, it seems abuse on children begins right from infancy. In middle-class homes, neglect of children begins at infancy with parents spending very little quality time. Other abuses on children include over exposure to television, overfeeding, compelling the child to participate in activities, besides grave abuses as sexual harassment and corporal punishment.

“Lack of awareness and knowledge of the consequences of what they are doing is a kind of abuse,” says S. Yamuna, consultant pediatrician and adolescent physician. She says that much of new-age abuse, caused directly or indirectly on children, is because of the anxiety level of parents. Dr. Yamuna says it is “cruel to leave the child under the care of grandparents or a caretaker and assume that the role of biological parents is not necessary.” This outsourcing is to be condemned. “During the initial seven years, one parent has to spend time with the child,” she says, adding that more than the children it is parents who need to be counselled, which should start at the pre-pregnancy stage.

Cases involving child abuse — whether physical, emotional or sexual — are complex. Not only because they could scar them for life, but also because many children do not know where and how to voice their grievances. In 2006, the School Education Department launched a complaint cell (044-28273591) to reassure students with a helpline that they could call in case they have a problem in school. In January 2007, the State government issued orders to remove Rule 51 of the Tamil Nadu Education Rules that permitted corporal punishment in schools under specified circumstances. Though teachers and school managements know that corporal punishment is illegal, some teachers say they “helplessly” resort to the practice in an environment where examination results and ranks seem most important.

“Parents themselves come and tell us ‘beat my son, make him study'. It is not easy, we need larger support systems and regular counselling in schools for students under pressure,” says a high school teacher.

Rehabilitating a victim of corporal punishment also becomes an issue in situation where culture of violence is accepted by parents and when the issue of child rights is not sufficiently understood by teachers, says Anuradha Vidyasankar, Head, Southern Regional Resource Centre, CHILDLINE India Foundation.

According to Ms. Vidyasankar, the NGO has received more calls in 2011 than in the previous two years. “In Chennai, calls seeking rescue, restoration and shelter top the list,” she says.

The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), which the State government is required to set up as per the Right to Education (RTE) Act, offers some promise. Once it becomes functional, children may have a platform to voice their grievances.

Be it home or outside, sexual abuse is still an issue both parents and school skirt. In many cases, the threat could be nearer home. In a recent case in the city a four-year-old girl was kidnapped by a man in Mogappair East. Her parents and relatives frantically searched for the child but couldn't locate her. Later in the evening public found a man with the child in the area who was handed over to the police. Investigations revealed that he was a paedophile and had misbehaved with many children on various occasions.

Creating awareness

Any organisation that works with children, including a school, tuition centre or an NGO, should have and implement a child protection policy, which should have five components. “How are the employees recruited and screened. Do they give all employees a basic training in child protection? Do they have a code of conduct on how they should behave with children? What is the system in place to report an allegation of abuse? And how should a case of alleged abuse be handled?,” explains Vidya Reddy of Tulir.

While the schools of Chennai Corporation have been playing a proactive role in dealing with the issue, private schools have not been co-operative as often, they are hesitant to even discuss the topic, say activists.

What the say

Sudha Ramalingam, advocate: “We have a good legal system and there are enough laws to punish the offenders but how much do we take advantage. The problem lies in the execution, where the complaint mechanism is either silent or faulty. There should be more sensitisation and teaching about what abuse is. We also need a system in place where we act pro-actively to ensure that the child victim is not exposed again and again and his/her name not revealed. Institutions should also be sensitised as they tend to suppress issues.

Nancy Veronica, programme manager, Tulir: “Cases of child sexual abuse in Chennai are getting more reported due to two reasons. There is increasing awareness and greater faith in the system to which it is getting reported, which could be anyone including the parent. However, there is a long way to go, before we can be confident that the child is in a safe environment. It is important for parents to provide their child the space and approachability that they can come and disclose anything they might feel uncomfortable about.”