From OUTLOOK (Feb 6, 2006):
In a world where child sex abuse is rampant, an organisation steps in to spread awareness
As a child rights activist for Child Line, a body under the Indian Council for Child Welfare, Vidya Reddy realised they were dealing with several cases of child trafficking, physical abuse of domestic child workers and other such cases, but child sexual abuse (CSA) was hardly getting any focused attention. Vidya was in touch with Lois J. Engelbrecht who had worked in Vietnam, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia on CSA issues in schools. Vidya and Lois felt the need for an outfit in India that dealt with awareness, prevention and healing of CSA.
Workshops are held in schools where concepts like body integrity and personal safety are taught so that the kids can look after themselves.
They set up the Tulir Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) in ’04.
Tulir in Tamil means the first tender leaves of a plant. "There were several ngos working in the area of child rights but only few social workers knew how to handle sexual violence
against children. Trafficking was easier to deal with since it had a socio-economic pattern. But CSA is a problem with the entire society," says Vidya. In In 90 per cent of CSA cases, the offenders are known to and close to the child, which is why addressing the problem is a major challenge.
The basic objective of Tulir is to work towards a climate where every child feels safe. They focus on raising awareness in public places—from schools to malls through poster expositions to printing personal safety workbooks. Tulir’s emphasis is on conducting workshops in schools aimed at empowering children. My Personal Safety Workbook developed by Tulir is a resource that introduces the concepts of body integrity and personal safety to primary school kids so that they can look after themselves and report CSA. It can also be used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
Tulir’s research and interactions with schools have revealed alarming cases of abuse. In one instance, a man had been reportedly abused by a school teacher in a Chennai school. It turned out the teacher was still in service and continued to prey upon kids of the next generation. When approached by Tulir, the principal and management were surprisingly cooperative and even organised a CSA workshop. "We try to liaise with schools at every level—from corporation schools to elite international schools. People from lower socio-economic groups are in fact more forthright about acknowledging the problem," says Nancy who is part of the Tulir team. "In government schools, since teachers are unionised, all they do is transfer an offending teacher, giving the person a new set of children to abuse," laments Vidya.
The basic problem is that the law in India is hardly sensitive to the needs of CSA victims. Says Alankaar, another member of Tulir: "When a girl child is abused, it is classed under section 354, which deals with outraging the modesty of a woman. Rape laws define rape as penetration and intercourse; they do not recognise penetration with inanimate objects, the use of fingers and sodomy." As for abuse of male children, it is in fact neglected even by some CSA workers. Abuse of boys can be booked only under section 377, which criminalises homosexuality. Vidya recalls a case in Chennai where the conductor of a school bus who used to bite girl children all over their bodies. When caught, he pleaded guilty in court and got away with a fine of Rs 1,000. He continues to hold the job.
While demanding a new set of laws that deal with sexual crimes, Vidya points out that our laws merely reflect the values of the society we live in. "It appals us when sometimes activists and even mediapersons expect to meet and interview abused children at the Tulir office." Their futility of expecting new CSA-specific laws have made Tulir realise that justice should not be approached purely in the legal sense. A sense of justice needs to be inculcated in the familial, societal and communitarian spheres. Contact: Block 57 A, 26th Street, Anna Nagar (East), Chennai-600102. Tel: 044-26632026. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.tulircphcsa.org
(the article can be accessed at http://www.outlookindia.com/mad.asp?fodname=20060206&fname=Making&sid=1)