How our children can protect themselves from predators

It’s okay to say no and even a three-year-old needs to know this.

 |  4-minute read |   14-09-2017
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One of the best things about childhood is the ability to see the world and express yourself in the most unfettered way. Of course, for children to be able to do this, they need safe and nurturing environments, which is very often not the case.

Child protection is still a huge issue, and needs to be addressed much before children start going to school and learning about good touch and bad touch. Every child should know that their body is theirs and they have a right to protect it. Most offenders harm children in their early childhood when they are not even aware what’s being done. It's very important that even very young children know that they shouldn't be touched in certain spots and that they should tell someone right away if it ever happens. 

Talking about good and bad touch to children who are really young doesn’t help. These words are not that well understood (the definition of what is good and what is bad). The focus is to teach kids about body parts, privacy, consent, self-respect, reporting abuse (know who to go to), confidence, safe spaces etc. Telling a child that it’s okay for people to touch your private parts when they are bathing you but at other times it’s not is way too confusing for kids. To begin with, child protection requires that children are given the respect and space needed to be heard.

child-body_091417070632.jpgImage: Reuters photo

At a young age it’s beneficial to keep it short and simple and good touch/bad touch programming should start at age three, even if we don’t use those words.

The child needs to recognise that their body belongs to them and they have the right to protect it and be able to express their feelings. For this, we need to ensure they are fully equipped to deal with uncomfortable situations. First of all, they need to fully understand the concept of unwanted/unsafe touch. Children should know that it’s okay to say no and move away from that situation or find an adult or older sibling to talk to about feelings, fears and concerns.

Another aspect to be cognisant about is bullying. Children should be encouraged and empowered to manage instances of bullying (for example: "I don't like the way they/you are acting. I am going to play with someone else"). Or they should be encouraged to go to an adult and talk about it. It’s important though, to recognise the difference between bullying and random aggressive behaviour.

Most importantly, children should be taught that secrets about touching are never okay to keep. And if someone tries to break the touching rule they should:

1) Say no

2) Walk away 

3) Tell an adult right away

Every child should learn that “My body is my own”: Being aware of and reporting inappropriate physical contact and abuse and to know that it is okay to ask someone to stop doing something that makes you uncomfortable. (For example, Stop I do not like this” - to an aunt who might be giving bear hugs). Bodies of boys and girls are different and change over time, and they should learn to accept these differences and respect them.

Trust is a key factor when it comes to child protection and so is demonstrating who to trust. For instance, someone who never hurts you, so that the child knows whom to ask for help. The child should be able to recognise when they feel safe/unsafe and act on it (example, "I do not like this… I am afraid"). Also, it is vital for children to know that certain body parts are private and need to be protected (Example, “My Mom said that I must change my clothes privately”). 

And lastly, but most importantly, the importance of consent: every child should know that asking permission is a must, even if it’s a friend.

An estimated 26 million children are born in India annually. So, it is important to note the magnitude of challenges related to child protection in light of this fact. "Catching them young" is therefore important and some of  the programming on television, like Sesame Street’s Galli Galli Sim Sim with episodes targeting children aged two-eight years aim at maximising young children’s well-being by building social-emotional skills and protective behaviours for children at a sensitive age.

For too long, child protection has been concerned with rescuing and repairing the physical bodies of children; what’s more important is to recognise their inner feelings, thoughts and views.

In the light of all this, we need to ensure that children are being adequately supported and encouraged to speak out about abuse against them.

It is always better and more efficient to “get it right from the start” by preventing maltreatment, rather than trying to fix the many problems that result from early trauma later in life.

Also read: Ryan International school murder: How to teach children to protect themselves

Writer

Sashwati Banerjee Sashwati Banerjee @bongchild

Managing director, Sesame Workshop in India

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