Childhood is a time of fun, frolicking and excitement. It is a time when children discover the world in their own way. However, too many children are denied this opportunity because they are sexually abused. Child Sexual Abuse is a global pandemic with data highlighting that 1 in 2 children in India has faced sexual abuse. In most cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts, maybe a parent, carer or neighbour. Child Sexual Abuse has consistently been found to impact the life of the child at the physiological. psychological and social levels.
Increasingly, knowledge of techniques for prevention, identification and addressal of CSA is becoming an important component of the education for both adults and children. However, the reality is that there is a scarcity of reliable and easily usable information for caregivers as well as unavailability of age-appropriate tools to teach children about keeping themselves safe. Lack of information coupled with paranoia in the media about Child Sexual Abuse often makes us feel that Child Sexual Abuse is either inevitable or negligible.
In this vacuum, the onus is on the education system to indicate the dialogue on personal safety, demystify myths and increase protective factors to ensure safe childhood. However, it can be hard for teachers, parents and carers to talk to children about Child Sexual Abuse. It is an issue that is difficult to talk about, and often, difficult to acknowledge. Every caregiver worries about their children’s safety, but there is also apprehension that talking to children about personal safety will make them anxious and frighten them.
We agree that fear is not an effective teaching tool, but confidence is. We also believe teaching children about personal safety from a young age is important as adults cannot be with them always. Also, when conversations on personal safety are initiated and children have knowledge and skills, they can participate in their own safety, prevent the risks of Child Sexual Abuse and seek support in case of violations.
It is here that school-based prevention programme developed by Arpan- Personal Safety Education Programme which works with children as well as their adult stakeholders comes handy. The programme’s mission is that every child has the right to feel safe at all times and all adults have the response to protect children. Having touched the lives of 110,000+ children with Personal Safety Education programme through 170+ schools and handling 6,500+ cases, the programme showcases that it leads to an immediate increase in children’s knowledge and skills to identify, refuse assertively to unsafe situations and seek help. It also gives them a sense of agency over themselves and guides them to take ownership of their bodies and their rights.
Developing this capacity within children in a manner that is age-appropriate and that encourages honest and open communication without retribution also instils confidence in children that when and if they speak up, they will be believed and supported by their caregivers. It also strengthens the child’s safety network by equipping parents and teachers to be aware of CSA, identify signs and symptoms and effectively handle disclosure.
This school-based programme can be conducted as a classroom-based session along with in-person sessions with school management, school staff and parents followed by individual sessions with each child providing them a safe space to disclose any past or ongoing experience of abuse and seek help. Children who disclose are supported through counselling sessions.
An online programme for initiating a conversation on personal safety is also available on our e-learning platform www.arpanelearn.com. This engages learners in a self-paced e-learning programme by providing Personal Safety messages through a fun and impactful online interface and initiating conversations with adults through a short course for caregivers.
We appeal to esteemed school community to play your part in safeguarding children by signing up to teach personal safety education in your schools. We believe that child safety is our shared goal and You are the child’s best teacher and when you teach children to take the safest action in any unsafe situation, it becomes empowering. It also helps build the foundation of a healthy, safe and loving relationship and a generation of children who grow up free of scars to unleash their full potential.
ABOUT ARPAN: Winner of 6 National-level awards and 2 International awards for its exemplary work, Arpan works hard to address the issue of Child Sexual Abuse in India. Based in Mumbai with over 100 social workers and counsellors, Arpan provides prevention and intervention services to children and adults. Arpan provides training nationally to Schools, NGOs and Government duty bearers to conduct Personal Safety Education in their environment and reach messages of personal safety to millions of children.