Dealing with child sexual abuse
Boards installed in all Chennai Schools, carrying messages for students
“Yes, we know what that means,” said the group of class VIII students of Chennai Middle School, Arumbakkam, in chorus. They were responding to a question whether they knew what sexual abuse meant.
The interaction between them and Nancy of Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing Child Sexual Abuse, an NGO, on Wednesday highlighted their keen interest in their safety. Students seemed to have heard of instances of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as well. “Even two days ago, the newspaper had a report on a small girl having been sexually abused,” said one of the students.
Having oriented themselves to ideas of personal safety and prevention of CSA by reading a board that Tulir, with the support of UNICEF and Chennai Corporation, has put up in the School, the students were prompt in their responses on how to say no or tell an adult they trust when someone makes them feel uncomfortable.
Such boards have been installed in all Chennai Middle, High and Higher Secondary Schools. It speaks of aspects such as private parts, how people hug, about accepting gifts, about reporting cases of known or unknown adults sexually abusing them, saying no when they want to, running away from the spot and telling an adult. It also has a final reassuring message stating ‘No, it is not your fault'. The messages in simple, conversational Tamil are aimed at reaching the student-reader.
T.N.Venkatesh, Joint Commissioner (Education), Chennai Corporation, told students that it was important for them, as adolescents, to be aware of their safety. “Keep yourself updated about current affairs. Read newspapers, come and talk to your friends,” he said.
Vidya Reddy of Tulir, who has been working with the Chennai Corporation for over five years to raise awareness among children in its schools, said the civic body had been very receptive to the idea. “These schools realise the need for awareness of the issue and have been enthusiastic partners,” she said.
However, private schools show little interest in raising awareness of the issue among their students, Ms. Reddy added. “They do not see the importance of such a programme. One parent who requested the management to put up one of these posters was told that they had no time for this. Such is their indifference. Is it not important to make children in private schools also aware of the issue? It is a fundamental lesson in personal safety,” she said.
Aruna Rathnam, Education Specialist, UNICEF, urged boys also to confide in parents or teachers if anyone abused them. “Do not think that you will be ridiculed for being afraid.” D. Jayalakshmni, headmistress of the school, also spoke.