This post does not have a happy beginning.
In 2015, 3350 cases of sexual harassment of children were registered in India. 14,913 cases were under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. (Source: National Crime Records Bureau or NCRB data). Children were most often abused by neighbours or members of their family who they trusted and were in touch with regularly.
The Indian Express reports that in 2015, 8800 children were raped.
Alarming as these statistics are, these are only the reported cases. The epidemic is far worse.The abuse is not restricted to a particular economic class or community but is a nationwide malice. Naturally, for parents and caregivers, this is a cause for deep worry. The damage to the child is not simply physical but emotional and mental, with the wounds festering for years. Depression, low self-worth, self-blame and eating disorders are only some of the damages the child has to face as they grow into adulthood. Psychologists have now likened the effects of child abuse to post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
What would my life be, if I were not abused?
is a lingering question in the mind of child abuse survivors. As adults, we are responsible for the safety and well-being of children. It is important that we start conversations with children that will help them protect themselves from sexual predators. But how does one initiate the idea of the body, the need to defend its identity to very young children?
Scholastic India has come out with the book No Touch as part of its Watch Out series to do precisely this.
Written by K.Krishna and illustrated by Ayeshe Sadr and Ishaan Dasgupta, No Touch a hard bound, glossy picture book. Sargam our heroine, loves playing detective. She spends her time searching for clues and making deductions. In her quest for secrets and mysteries, she speaks with a friend from whom she learns an unhappy secret. Sargam’s friend has been touched inappropriately and has been told not to speak of the ‘secret’ to anyone, especially not her parents.
Fortunately, Sargam’s father had spoken with Sargam about what is a good touch and a bad touch and how to distinguish between the two. Sargam counsels her friend to discuss it with her parents immediately. Sargam decides to have the talk about the different kinds of touches with her little sister Vidya.
Sargam sits down to chat with her sister, using a swimsuit analogy.
A bad touch is anything that makes you feel uncomfortable-especially if someone touches parts of your body that your swimming suit covers. No one touches you there. That’s bad touch.
Sargam goes on to give specific instructions to Vidya about what to do if someone should try to ‘bad touch’ her. The most important tip she gives Vidya is that she must speak about it to her parents, grandparent or sibling since child abusers often try to convince the child that what is transpiring between them is a ‘secret’.They thrive in this vow of silence. This explains how child abuse victims find it very tough to talk about it even years after the fact.
Sargam cautions Vidya that the bad touch may not be by a stranger but by someone she knows very well. Vidya is surprised but believes Sargam. The two sisters go over what they have discussed and reinforce what they have learned.
The author has ensured that children learn the difference between good touch and bad touch. She emphasises the importance of raising an alarm and immediately informing members of the family or someone they trust. The key characters are all young girls, which is my quibble with the author.Figures indicate that boys are abused almost as much as girls and if the book had included a character that boys could identify with, it would have been great. That aside, this book is a great starting point to talk to children about sexual abuse in a language they can understand. The book is bound to open a box of questions that need to be answered without shame.
For a lot of parents, talking about identifying and tackling sexual abuse is a topic they dread speaking about with their children. No Touch is a wonderful aid they can read and use to help fortify children.
We warn children to stay away from the fire or a pit and what to do in case they do get burnt or fall into one. Similarly, we need to teach children about how to distinguish between a love filled hug or a kiss from something far more sinister. The lesson that their body is their own and that no one can touch it without their permission can be ingrained with No Touch.
The words are simple and impactful. The illustrations are fun and will appeal to children, despite dealing with a heavy subject. This is a book children will like to read several times over.
It is not enough to be outraged or ashamed. We must educate and converse with children so that they can move out of harm’s way. Abusers must be called out. The author correctly points out:
Ignoring the fact that abuse happens or being too uncomfortable to speak to your child is NOT doing your child any favours.
Wait no longer, dear guardian. Get reading and get talking.