The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Silence ripped off child abuse
- Parents often prefer to ignore it, fearing repercussions if the subject is broached. But schools have decided that silence is not the weapon to battle the scourge. Kids and kin are being sensitised to the threat of 'bad touch'

It is a scourge that feeds on silence. After years of turning a blind eye, schools are finally speaking out about child sexual abuse, even if parents prefer to ignore it.

City institutions are now talking to parents about abuse ' usually perpetrated by a person known to the child ' hoping to equip them with sensitivity and sensibility to identify if their kids are suffering or are in danger.

The problem is rampant and the need for intervention is clear. Case in point: Mahadevi Birla girls' school authorities spotted a student in distress a few weeks ago.

The girl, in Class III, kept quiet and would often burst into tears. Her teachers then learnt she was uncomfortable with the way the family driver treated her on the ride to and from school.

When the girl's mother was approached, she said her daughter would get used to it and that these things happen, recalled Malini Bhagat, headmistress of the school.

Bhagat will soon organise a counselling seminar for parents of children from various schools.

Other institutions, like MP Birla Foundation Higher Secondary School, are addressing the issue indirectly, passing on abuse prevention guidelines with other dos and don'ts.

Don Bosco Park Circus and St Augustine's Day School also broached the subject at recent parent-teacher seminars.

Parents are told to be vigilant about their children's behaviour. If they are uncomfortable in a particular person's presence, parents should look into it and speak to the child.

If the fears are brushed aside, it could have psychological repercussions later in life. 'A child often cannot explain what is happening and is likely to have been intimidated by the abuser,' warns counsellor Shrabani M. Chowdhury.

Some telltale signs to look for are thumb-sucking, fear of the dark, excessive crying and bed-wetting. Remedies include making the child feel secure by keeping the perpetrator away. The victim's feelings of self-blame also have to be addressed. But in most cases, these measures are not taken.

'It surfaces when the child reaches adolescence, primarily turning into anger against parents for not helping and the abuser for the breach of trust since, in most cases, he or she is a known person,' adds Chowdhury.

Children can be made aware of the difference between a 'good touch' and a 'bad touch'. At Laxmipat Singhania Academy, for instance, children defined good and bad touch through playacting.

'We also advised them who they could talk to about it,' said principal Anjali Razdan.

Both home and school have to share responsibility for the child's safety, stress educators.

At MP Birla, when primary schoolchildren leave for home, the kids whose parents come to collect them are let off first.

Those who go home on more public forms of transport ' like a car pool or rickshaw ' are sent home later, so teachers can keep a watch.

Response from parents, however, has not been very encouraging, report teachers. While the younger generation has been receptive, older parents refuse to accept that the problem exists.

'Even the most progressive people are closed to this. They prefer to sweep it under the carpet, as they are fearful of the repercussions they might face if they bring it up,' feels Bhagat.

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