The prevalence of child sexual abuse cases across India, including Karnataka, has made headlines multiple times. As per the 2017 Crime Records Bureau Report, 2,037 of Karnataka’s children were sexually abused in 1,308 cases in the year, and sought justice under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. 1,357 of these children were victims of rape. As of 2018, over 3,529 cases of child sexual abuse under the POCSO Act are still pending in Karnataka’s courts.
In this context, it is imperative that the Karnataka government take stringent measures to neutralize this danger to children. And one way to do this is mandatory inclusion of personal safety education in the curriculum in all schools in the state, which should include, among other things, education about safe and unsafe touch.
Education about safe and unsafe touch aims to empower children to, first, recognise attempted inappropriate touching, and second, to safely communicate to a trusted adult when such abuse does take place.
In these classes, children over the age of three are taught the difference between safe and unsafe touch in an age and culturally appropriate manner through rhymes, models, and educational videos. One of the things they learn is that certain parts such as the neck, chest, genitals, etc. are never to be touched by strangers or even family members, unless it is by a doctor (in the presence of a trusted family member) or parents/ caretakers during a bath etc.
Karnataka needs to pass a legally enforceable and mandatory measure that ensures all children from the age of three are educated on safe and unsafe touch. This inclusion of personal safety education in the curriculum must be on the same lines as education in all other subjects in terms of periodicity of teaching and qualifications of the teachers.
Section 5A of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 specifically provides that every educational institution take measures to ensure the safety and security of children. It also mentions that such measures are to include the protection of children from sexual offences.
Additionally, this law empowers the state government to make rules under Section 145 (xxiv) of the Act on courses of study in educational institutions. It is recommended that the Karnataka government use these provisions to make inclusion of personal safety education in every school mandatory.
To ensure that it is taught to children in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner, it is recommended that all Anganwadi workers as well as government and private school teachers are mandatorily trained on the best and most suitable ways to impart such knowledge.
For the safety of Karnataka’s children and the success of this programme, it is critical that every school in Karnataka have an established protocol to deal with instances of child sexual abuse in the school. It must be made mandatory for the school principal to report any incident involving child sexual abuse to the local police station on the day that it is reported.
Additionally, this ecosystem of safety for children must place their wellbeing at its heart, with teachers, parents and law enforcement authorities standing guard to protect them from sexual predators.
Such a system would also be incomplete without the active involvement of the parents themselves -- first, in acknowledging that sexual abuse of their children is a very real possibility, and one that must be guarded against; and second, that more often than not, the perpetrators are those who are known to the child, perhaps even family members themselves. Parents must be educated about the concept of safe and unsafe touch themselves so that they stay vigilant and reinforce the concept at home as well.
States such as Haryana, Rajasthan, and Punjab have already undertaken programmes that raise awareness about safe and unsafe touch in schools. Government schools across India are also educating children from classes 2 to 7 about the concept of ‘Good Touch, Bad Touch’ under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
In some of Karnataka’s government schools, there is a pre-existing system where a workbook titled “Idu Nanna Deha, Nanna Icche” has been introduced to children aged between 6 to 12. It is recommended that the same be reviewed for extension to all schools across the state, whether private or government run.
Akhileshwari Reddy is a Research Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Karnataka and has authored the entry on ‘Good Touch Bad Touch’, in the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s 2019 Briefing Book.
Views expressed are author's own.