A lead article “Our crimes against our children” by Praveen Swami (The Hindu, January 21) should have opened Indian parents' eyes to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). The government report revealed that every second child in India faces sexual abuse. Fifty three per cent of children are sexually abused in their family environment and boys are more at risk than girls.
Talking with children about their bodies opens communication channels between children and parents. Teaching them strategies to recognise sexual abuse empowers them. Listening when a child reports a disturbing incident, believing him and standing up for him against the abuser is crucial.
Indian families prefer to hush up CSA incidents; they let the abuser go scot-free to abuse more children, and to further traumatise the child. Parents' job is to safeguard their children, not to protect adults' reputations, even if they are a cousin, a spouse or a grandparent. Parents must understand how child abusers silence their victims. The child often thinks it is his/her fault the uncle or aunt touched him/her inappropriately. The predator threatens harm to the child or to the family, exploiting the child's misplaced sense of responsibility for the family's safety.
When we teach our babies the names of their body parts, we must include the names of private parts. Children must not be ridiculed or scolded about their private parts. If someone touches a child's private parts, the child must not keep it secret from his parents. Show the child where nobody else can touch (bad touch). Explain exceptions to the rule such as bathing, washing after toilet use and examination by a medical professional (always with the parent present). Role-play good touch and bad touch.
Children have good instincts. If they feel uneasy with over-exuberant affection from an adult, tell them it is okay to get away. A child requires permission to be firm about his/her physical boundaries and to be rude if the adult does not stop. Every child should understand that his/her safety is more important than anything else, whether a teacher's or a driver's job, a family member's character or his own parents' marriage.
The sad truth is that many parents abuse their own children physically, verbally and emotionally. A child whose self-esteem and self-confidence are already battered by the family is at high risk from sexual predators. Good parenting should make the child bold and aware.
Show the child, which parts on an adult's body he/she mustn't touch even if cajoled or forced to. Firmly remove your little child's hands if he/she playfully touches your private parts, explaining that no one can touch them without your permission. Explain that older children or teenagers cannot fondle younger children's genitals. Even if the abuser is daddy's best friend or daddy himself, the child must get help. Parents must know sexual abuse symptoms. An abused child may start bedwetting or soiling underwear, have bruised genitals, fear or dislike a person, develop mood swings, show changes in temperament or lose interest in school, hobby classes or social activities. It is essential not to instil a fear of strangers or adults.
Staying involved in our children's lives, communicating honestly and reinforcing the above knowledge periodically are the best ways to protect our children.