The January issue of ParentEdge focuses on Child Abuse. Researching this story and talking to people about this issue was deeply disturbing for me. As a writer I should be able to distance myself from what I write about, but as a mother, how can I?
I spoke to people who work with abused children, helping them overcome their trauma and distress, and their stories are chilling and sickening. And the scariest part is that most child abuse begins at home—in places where a child is supposed to be safe and protected, and by people who are in positions of trust and responsibility—caregivers, family members and close friends. If the horror begins at home, to whom does the child turn?
Child abuse is also more prevalent than you would believe. A 2007 survey by the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development found that more than 53% of the children surveyed had faced some form of abuse, and 50% of the abusers were known to the child. This means that every child is vulnerable—irrespective of gender (yes, boys can be abused to, and often are!), and social and economic class (yes, there is no poor kid-rich kid divide when it comes to abuse). Think back to your own childhood and adolescence—many of us will remember that one over-friendly ‘uncle’ or ‘family friend’ who made us feel distinctly uncomfortable with his inappropriate behaviour, and perhaps worse.
Often, child abuse escapes us because it is not as dramatic and visible as rape. Abuse can range from mild to severe (abhorrent no matter the degree), and very often, the child does not show any visible signs of abuse. It is really the parent who knows the child best who can spot the signs—social withdrawal, changing behaviour, moodiness, anxiety, avoidance of certain people or situations, etc.—and try to get to the bottom of the matter.
Do read our Cover Story, in which we detail out:
- How you can recognise signs of abuse in your child
- The ‘grooming’ process that abusers follow to buy the child’s silence
- Tips on how to protect and empower your child
- Advice on how to help a child who has been abused
For now, there are certain things I would request all parents to keep in mind:
- DO NOT THINK YOUR CHILD IS IMMUNE. Every child is vulnerable to abuse and there is nothing – NOTHING – more important than protecting your child from sexual predators. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk to people and read up on this topic so you can equip yourself and know what to look out for.
- NO PERSON IS ABOVE SUSPICION. This is the mother in me talking, and not the writer. Do not trust your child alone with anyone who is not part of your inner circle. And I would go so far as to say that we must build in certain safeguards even with people who are in our inner circle. This brings me to my next point.
- BE SURE TO COMMUNICATE CERTAIN INVIOLABLE RULES TO YOUR CHILD. Besides the usual precautions of keeping away from strangers, I enforce these rules with my daughter as well:
- There can be no secrets from mama. If someone asks you to keep something secret, you must tell me.
- No one is allowed to touch you in your private parts and on body parts that are generally clothed (like chest, thighs, etc.). If anyone touches you here or asks you to take of some clothes, you must shout ‘NO’ and tell mama as soon as you can.
- Do not accept chocolates or other gifts from people without telling mama, especially if that person tells you to keep it a secret.
- Finally, no matter what, you can always come and tell mama about anything. If you are afraid of something or uncomfortable tell me. I will not scold you.
Of course, this attitude needs to be borne out in our daily lives, where we create an atmosphere that is reassuring for the child—she should be confident that she can tell you anything without getting blamed for it. Many parenting experts and psychologists reiterate this as the single most important parenting truth—create an open atmosphere that encourages your child to communicate with you without fear. The child has to be sure that you will help her solve her problem, not blame her, and ‘be on her side’. Only then will she open up to you about a person who makes her feel uncomfortable or a situation that is upsetting her. And this kind of open communication has to be cultivated day in and day out from an early age, in every aspect of your interaction with your child.
The intent of this post is not to scare you or sensationalise the issue, but I look around me and feel that we are not as aware of this issue as wel should be and so tend to be lax about our children’s safety. Child abuse can leave scars on our children for life, affecting their future relationships and the whole psyche. Parents please WAKE UP NOW AND REALISE THAT YOUR CHILD IS VULNERABLE TO ABUSE AS WELL. Get involved in her life, be aware of what is happening; nothing is more important – no housework, extended family or your career—than your child’s safety.
Do be sure to read our Cover Story ‘Protect your Child from Abuse’ to get a complete understanding of abuse and how to protect your child. Check out these great websites as well: http://amable.in/child-abuse and http://tulir.org/
Re-published with permission from the blog of ParentEdge, a bi-monthly parenting magazine that aims to expose parents to global trends in learning and partner with them in the intellectual enrichment of their children. This blog was written by Kritika Srinivasan, who is an Editor at ParentEdge. She has her hands full with an active young child and her writing. She is keenly interested in ways to engage and stimulate children to keep their lively and intelligent minds busy.