Child Sexual Abuse
AWARE India, a Chennai based NGO, began their Save The Smiles (STS) mission in 2016 with the aim to make Chennai child-friendly by 2020.

Anita* is an anxious parent. A young mother, she feels helpless when it comes to teaching her two-year-old daughter about safety. “She may be very young for me to begin worrying about it, but I read such disturbing news stories on the internet and in the paper. How can I teach her to be safe? Where do I start?” she asks.

For many young parents, the question is the same - ‘How do I teach my child to be safe?’.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) occurs frequently and most often, the perpetrators are well-known adults. Therefore, it becomes important to teach children and adults on how to identify and report CSA. The most important challenge, however, remains how adults respond to such reports.

AWARE India, a Chennai-based NGO began their Save The Smiles (STS) mission in 2016 to educate and empower children, parents and adults to help prevent CSA. Their mission is to make Chennai child friendly by 2020.

Sandhiyan Thilagavathy, a volunteer at the NGO, shares that the mission of STS is to make sure the adults are ready to handle any situation when it comes to CSA.

“Most often adults pass around the buck - at schools they feel it's the responsibility of parents to deal with such issues while on the other side, parents feel it should come from teachers, with whom children spend most of their day time,” says Sandhiyan. He goes on to add, “Our sessions are open for all adults to take part - irrespective of whether they are  a teacher or a parent.”

Sandhiyan also shares that most parents are "paranoid' and very few know how to address the issue with their children.

“Mostly, they shrug it off saying it’s not their responsibility. Many do not know how to broach the topic with their children. We use creative medium so that they can take it back to their children,” he says.

While it makes sense to directly talk to the children, Sandhiyan says that the message is more effective coming from a known adult. “Every child is unique, it would be most sensible for a parent or a teacher who knows the child’s behaviour better to discuss CSA with them. It has to be handled sensitively. We believe that children prefer to learn about body safety from a comfortable adult in a safer environment,” he adds.

STS began conducting these workshops followed by requests from parents. “Especially after the brutal Kathua rape, more number of parents began writing to us. A lot of them were worried about how to keep their children safe from such situations,” says Sandhiyan. He also adds that while we have Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 in place, it is poorly implemented in the state.

“Unfortunately, many people feel that even talking about CSA is taboo. Any there are many misconceptions on what constitutes sexual abuse itself. A concerned adult can prepare a child by initiating age appropriate dialogue on body, sex and boundaries and we hope to be doing that through our workshops,” he says.

AWARE has been conducting several workshops across the city. Their upcoming session is on June 3, between 10 am to 2 pm at Jhoola Activity Center, Nanganallur. The team will also conduct these workshops at schools/ colleges/ workplaces/ communities based on requests. For more details, you can call 8122241688 or write to sts@aware.org.in.