By Meera Srinivasan
Friday, Nov 20, 2009
Experts believe that sustaining such efforts is real issue
Schools should pay attention to their screening and recruitment process
CHENNAI: Several events were organised in the city on Thursday to mark the ‘World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse.’ However, some activists and experts believe that sustaining such efforts is the real issue. They feel every day ought to be a ‘prevention of child abuse day’.
From abusing children emotionally for “poor academic performance” to sexual abuse, many children are being subjected to a lot of abuse, if reports of incidents highlighting these are an indication. But, there is something everyone can do to prevent this.
For instance, Lady Andal Matriculation School has been taking several efforts in this direction. In particular, it lays emphasis on generating awareness of child sexual abuse (CSA). Vice-principal Rathi Radhakrishnan says: “Everyone tends to brush such things under the carpet, saying child sexual abuse should not be there in schools. But, the truth is that it is there. Acknowledging the possibility [of CSA] is very important.”
From inviting experts in the field to address students, to sensitising teachers, the school has been taking up several efforts. “We even address the little ones in our Montessori sections about who can hug them, and how they should identify inappropriate, unacceptable behaviour of adults.”
Jayashree Padmanabhan, principal of Gill Adarsh Matriculation School, also thinks it is important for children to be given opportunities to speak out. “We wanted to know their opinion on child abuse and we organised events such as oratorical contest, debate and slogan-writing competition today [Thursday]. They came up with some very insightful thoughts.”
Underlying the role of schools in creating awareness, Tulir — Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse has initiated ‘Daring to Care,’ a school-based campaign.
The initiative seeks to rope in city schools into the space of prevention of CSA. “Many schools have been extremely cooperative. Some have even distributed flyers to their kindergarten children with their school’s logo on them,” says Vidya Reddy, executive director, Tulir. Safe schools acknowledge and accept the possibility of abuse in and out of school. “They talk about it, giving children a notion of their safety,” she adds.
Schools should pay attention to their screening and recruitment process. “They have to see what kind of training is given to teachers on child protection, what measures are taken to maintain safety in schools, whether there is a code of conduct and questions such as, How do you report an allegation of abuse? And how do you address it?”
The School Education Department launched a complaint cell (Number: 28273591) two years ago. According to a senior official at the Directorate of School Education, the cell does get calls from students reporting sexual abuse. “But, the number of such calls has come down.” The Chief Education Officers have been given instructions to deal with such cases “responsibly.” And responsibly would have to be taking the matter to the police immediately, and not merely transferring teachers, which is a common practice, say activists.
Interest to spread the message from different quarters is a promising sign. An online network of mothers, www.chennaimoms.com, has been sending out messages to parents on the possibility for abuse online and the need for Internet safety. “Many children spend considerable time online. Many parents said they did not know that such threats existed and seemed happy to become aware,” says Bhavani Raman, founder, chennaimoms.com.