April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in some parts of the world, but it is an issue that needs to addressed universally especially in light of recent events in our country.

 

External preventive measures such as CCTV, providing self-defence training or warnings to steer clear of dangerous situations are effective in only 5% of the cases. This is because, according to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) 2015 data, 94.8% of sexual assaults on minors are not by strangers, they are mostly family members or neighbours or someone in a position of authority over the child.

 

While awareness about legal recourse and awareness in general is making people report these cases. Justice is delayed by decades in most cases, if at all. NCRB data also shows that children between the ages 5 and 12 are the most vulnerable and that boys are just as vulnerable as girls in this gory crime.

 

What can we do as parents and how early should we start? Parents think children are too young for these conversations. But it is never too soon, and it does not have to be a scary conversation. Here are 8 tips for teaching body safety to children.

Talk about body parts (Earlier is better): Use proper names for body parts, or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts. Teach it matter of factly, children will think it awkward or weird only if they think that you think it is (whew..). If you are worried about your child using those words in a public place to embarrass you, yes, it might happen, but the need for children to describe to you accurately without fear or stigma if anything inappropriate has happened to them is greater. It is the need of the hour.

Teach that some parts are private: Teach that some body parts are private and cannot be seen or touched by anyone other than parents and designated teachers/nannies and that too to keep them clean. Even doctors are allowed to check their body only in the presence of parents.

Teach them good touch and bad touch: Talk to them about touch that makes them feel safe, protected, and happy as against touch that makes them nervous, anxious, and scared. Often times, we forget to tell them that some "bad touch" might feel "good". But anyone touching private parts is NOT OK.

No-secrets policy: Most abusers will ask the child to keep the abuse a secret from parents by saying it's their "special time" or some such horrifying thing. So tell them, no matter what anyone tells them or who tells them, body related secrets are an ultimate NO.

No photos or videos of private parts: With the widespread usage of smartphones and easy access to anonymous social media dissemination, this is a real concern. Teach them that absolutely no one known or unknown should ever take photos or ask for taking photos of their private parts.

Empower your children with the knowledge to get out of uncomfortable situations: Tell them it is OK to say no to adults. Teach them to say NO/STOP loudly and scream for help or go to the nearest adult and complain if something feels out of place.

Have a CODE word in place: This is for older kids around the 5 year mark. Create a simple, memorable code word that they should use in only two circumstances. One, if they feel uncomfortable around someone, this could be in a house setting too. Two, to ask if someone poses as your acquaintance and asks to pick up child from school/mall etc. .

Reassure your children that they WILL NEVER be in trouble if they tell you ANYTHING: Abusers often instil fear in children that they will get in trouble at home if they share their ordeals with parents. Expressly tell your children that they WILL NEVER get in trouble for any secret.

Lastly, you can never say what an abuser can look like. It could be a man or a woman or even another child. If only, it were so simple to prevent child sexual abuse. Knowledge especially in the case of children can act as a powerful deterrent because children are targeted because of their innocence and their helplessness.

 

This is not a one-time conversation and needs to be reiterated time and again. Model consent in everyday life, the child should feel empowered to say NO. This could be as simple as asking permission before hugging them or giving them a choice in "giving a kiss to Nili mami". My Little Body Book by Young Zubaan Publishers is a great starting point for these conversations.