The petition talks about making personal safety education a mandatory part of the curriculum

Was abused didnt know it was not ok Why this petition on child sex abuse is importantImage courtesy: change.org
news Child Sex Abuse Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 17:23

“The caretaker of the building her father stayed in, took her downstairs on the pretext of playing badminton and used the classic ‘let’s play a game and I’ll show you a secret place’ to sexually assault her.”

This is how it began for Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman, a survivor of child sexual abuse. She was only eight years old when this happened. When she told her aunt about the incident, she laughed and dismissed it. Two years later, at just ten, she began to campaign to raise awareness about child sexual abuse (CSA).

Now, she has come up with a petition on change.org, asking for “personal safety education” to be made a mandatory part of children’s curriculum in schools under the CBSE and ISCE boards, along with trained teachers who can provide support and are trained to identify signs of abuse.

Pranaadhika’s story is by no means an isolated one. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, cases of registered child rapes increased by 151 percent from 2009 to 2014. While the jump is alarming, the deafening silence around the issue makes it worse.

Laisa Paul, former coordinator of Child Line in Thrissur, conducts classes and workshops for children, teachers and parents in schools to educate them about child sex abuse. She explains that she puts the topic under ‘health education’ as it ultimately has to do with the well-being of children. And because talking about sex in public makes people squeamish.

“It also has to do with the fact that even when parents report cases of sexual abuse, the focus of the society is on the abused child and the abuse itself, not on the abuser. That makes them even more uncomfortable,” she says.

However, Harish Iyer, a child sex abuse survivor and activist for equal gender rights, says that the taboo around sex is translated into taboo around sexual abuse too.

“As soon as you talk about ‘sex education’, these sanskaari babus will come and hound you. But that’s problematic because we as a society need to understand that sex is not the devil, the sexual abuse is. If something like this (education about CSA) was there in my time, it would definitely have helped me speak up.”

Harish was seven years old when he was raped by an uncle. The abuse continued for more than a decade, a duration in which his psyche was riddled with fear and self-doubt. When he finally realized that what was happening was wrong and opened up about it to his mother, she was shocked because she was unable to see the signs. This, Harish highlights, is why it is important for teachers to be sensitized to the issue too.

“Your parents are your primary educators and protectors. But when they don’t pick up the signs, the child has nowhere to turn to. That is when the onus comes upon the secondary educators, the teachers,” he explains.

He adds that the petition is a step in the right direction. However, the exercise should not be limited to children but must also extend to Parent Teacher Associations or PTA meetings for a comprehensive approach to tackle CSA.

24-year-old Sharmila Bhandari understands this all too well, because when she opened up about being sexually abused and raped by her grandfather, her mother told her to forget about it and not speak of it again because it would be a huge black mark on the family. She was studying for her class 10 board exams when it happened.

She adds that in her school, there was no concept of sex education.

“If someone, even at school, had sat me down and told me that this is not okay, I think I would have been able to deal with it better at home too. I would have spoken up. Instead, I would ask myself ‘why me?’ I would even wonder if I had done something to invite it.”

Sharmila has been struggling with clinical depression for the last eight months because the issues from the abuse were bottled up and not dealt with. However, she is determined to get her story out to help others like her.

Meanwhile, J Sandhya, member of Kerala State Commission for Child Rights, cautions that if not done well, introducing such a subject to the curriculum could have the reverse effect on a child’s psyche.

“If children are constantly told to be on guard and be apprehensive, they might grow up to fear all adults. The problem is also that that we are constantly telling potential victims or survivors to be on guard, what happens to the perpetrators? I am not against educating children about CSA, it’s just that it needs to be done very sensitively,” she says.

Harish explains that while this sort of policy would indeed put more onus on the children to be careful, it is a situation that is difficult to mitigate.

“Perpetrators don’t come out until the abuse has happened. If every second child in India has experienced sexual abuse as a child, then imagine the number of abusers who are walking among us,” he says.

He further explains that if children are potential survivors and victims, they could be future perpetrators too – this is why they need to be educated about the issue from an impressionable age.

“Ultimately, it is all about how you approach the subject. If it is done by people with proper training and sensitivity, children won’t become paranoid about all adults. Probably, if someone had talked about this to my parents when they were younger, things would have been different for me,” says Sharmila.  

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