PART 1 | Bringing Safety to School

Our unpreparedness contributes to the rise of ongoing child abuse
PART 1 | Bringing Safety to School
"People all over the sphere have been facing ruinous challenges since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took over the social and physical world under its blanket. And all the efforts of saving our world from this virus have exposed our kids to an augmented risk of family violence." [Representational Image] Mubashir Khan/GK File

“The greater a child’s terror, and the earlier it is experienced, the harder it becomes to develop a strong and healthy sense of self.”

Nathaniel Branden, Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

It was a beautiful breezy evening of 2018 when my cell phone pinged for a messenger notification. With half-heartedness, I checked the message and found a link sent by a person known professionally to me. Usually, people like me hardly follow such links.

But then, my eyes became entangled in the three words ‘abused thousands of children.’ It was at that moment, my fingers automatically touched the screen of my cell phone to open the link. I followed the story and was spellbound.

But I could only reply that ‘it gives me goose bumps.’ And to my shock, that person posed a question in response “can anybody ever empathize with what I have been going through all those years of my childhood?” His probe gave me sleepless nights and restless days because that was the victim having the courage to speak up for other children.

For the whole week, I searched and researched the literature, internet, news, both old and new, only about child sexual abuse. And then I found that figures on sexual abuse reveal only the tip of the iceberg. “After researching, reviewing, considering, and contemplating with continued attention; I have concluded that the beast is among us”, A.K. Kuykendall puts it poignantly.

People all over the sphere have been facing ruinous challenges since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took over the social and physical world under its blanket. And all the efforts of saving our world from this virus have exposed our kids to an augmented risk of family violence. All children can be vulnerable by virtue of their young age and evolving capacities. They can be ‘open to’ harm, injury, violence, and abuse. Our unpreparedness has contributed to the rise of ongoing child abuse during the pandemic. Being quarantined is an added vulnerability factor of child sexual abuse now.

According to The Hindu ( APRIL 08, 2020 14:31 IST) ‘Coronavirus lockdown | Govt. helpline receives 92,000 calls on child abuse and violence in 11 days,’ and according to Safina Nabi, for ( Feb 09, 2021 • 09:30 pm) Kashmir has seen a further spike of 52% in reported child sexual abuse cases by November in 2020, compared to 2019.

Approaches of culpability, feebleness, shame, ignominy and disgrace, combined with a fear of how those closest to them will react and of the committer’s intimidations are the most common reasons why children, and often adults important to them who are aware of the abuse, do not report the abuse and seek help. If the abuse is reported, it is often months or years afterwards, especially if the abuser is a person close to a child. In most cases a child is unaware of what is going on with her/him. It is because we as parents and teachers/guides do not provide our child the secure environment.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) child maltreatment is abuse to children under 18 years of age by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher or mentor).

Any types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence or deprivation, and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power is an abuse.

It also includes punishment in the form of hitting, punching, kicking or beating which also occurs in schools and other institutions. It also includes sexual activities like inappropriate touching of private parts or indulging the child in touching the private parts of the perpetrator, molestation, sodomy, exhibitionism, pornography, and cyber sexual acts.

Statistics and psychological impact of child abuse, clicks an alarm in my being. I start thinking of ways to provide our kids a safe environment in schools and prepare ourselves for any possible catastrophic challenge to protect our child by any means against social, psychological and emotional insecurity and distress.

Consequently, we have to secure and protect the kid we have with us from the tender age of 3. Owning the responsibility as a Teacher Educator, I gathered all my wits and started a study to give child personal safety a priority in our education system, which is otherwise a neglected affair in our school education system.

‘Stipulation of Kids Personal Safety Education in Teacher Training Institutes and Schools of Jammu and Kashmir: A study to bring Security to School’ has been conceived and executed by Department of Education Communication Technology and Computer Sciences at State Council of Educational Research and Trainings, Jammu and Kashmir (K) involving 10 DIETs of Kashmir division for Data Collection and recommendations and suggestions.

This study shows there is a prodigious requirement that child should know about his/her personal security and the mechanism of coping with the inevitable troubled situations and this can be done by awareness programs for kids and including Kids Personal Safety Education (KPSE) in the associated or embedded school curriculum.

It also emphasised the significance and obligation of teachers' training in this regard and developing a cohesive tool for monitoring the security of children in school. Kids Personal Safety Education study recognises the need of surveillance cameras in the premise and surroundings of the schools with a counsellor in each and every school.

This study identifies the right of a child to know about his/her safety and security as soon as possible and this knowledge of self-security needs a systematic and comprehensive plan of execution for each level.

A series of meta-analyses conducted on the occurrence of child sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and physical and emotional neglect, reveals that 100% respondents believe child's personal safety should come first and child has a right to know about his/her personal safety and almost equal number of people i.e. 97% strongly believe that Kids Personal Safety Education (KPSE) should be introduced in curriculum, as part of curriculum or as associated curriculum.

92% estimate that about 0-30% of people in J&K are aware about POCSO e-Box for children and Child Help Line, 6% believe percentage is 30-50% and 2% believe above 50% are aware of helplines. 93% thinks SCERT and DIETs need to train Teachers/Masters in 'Kid Safety Education, 64% respondents think children workshops and awareness camps about Kids Safety shall be useful in securing child while 35% believe these will benefit to some extent and 97% respondents believe they should encourage child to report a disturbing incident.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Greater Kashmir