When we talk about child abuse, we think that the perpetrators are people unknown and unrelated to the family. It’s in our culture to address people not related to us as ‘uncle’, ‘aunty’, ‘akka’, ‘anna’, etc. This sometimes gives a false sense of security. We believe that anyone known to the family, would never commit such a heinous crime.
Unfortunately, the statistical data from the available research shows that most children are abused in their own homes or in places usually deemed safe by their parents, like tuition classes, extracurricular classes, school buses or birthday parties etc. In predominant number of cases, the abusers usually have the trust of these children and their families. Both boys and girls are victims of child abuse. Child abuse is a widespread problem in our country, occurring in all strata of society.
We trust our children with various adults, be it our neighbour uncle, driver anna, helper akka, coach or tuition teachers. How vigilant are we when it comes to these adults? This article is not meant to induce fear, but to bring some points to our attention.
What could we as parents do?
We need to get to know and regularly interact with those who spend time with our children like coaches, teachers, parents of their friends, etc. We could attend a few classes along with our children and pay attention to how the coach/teacher interacts with the child. With very young children it would be better to be with them in any classes or activities. Rather than trying to judge who could be a predator it would be safer if your child is not left alone with any adult as far as possible.
Most times, there aren’t any obvious outward signs to show that a person is a predator. These people work very hard to conceal their true nature. They are usually very outgoing, friendly and helpful. It is our job as parents to be alert and look out for clues. If anything seems ‘off’ or ‘odd’, we need to trust our instincts and it is better to err on the side of caution.
Spending time where they share about their day would help us pick up on anything that may be bothering them. If we find our child withdrawn or uncomfortable after being with certain people, it's important to explore why.
We should assure them that if they are uncomfortable with any unsafe action by any adult from family members or close friends to drivers, house help or tutors etc. they can come and speak with us immediately and they will be trusted and not blamed.
If we consistently see a child showing discomfort around a particular person, we shouldn’t force them to be with that person. They may be sensing something ‘off’, that we aren’t aware of.
Practice ‘No secrets kept from parents’ rule, no matter how exciting or ‘cool’ it has been made out to be by others. It could also be helpful for the family to have a “code word” which they can use if they want to phone or tell you in a gathering that someone made them feel unsafe.
We can read up on child abuse awareness, prevention and identification. Just as we speak to our children on road safety, plug points, safety in the kitchen, let them see this as just another aspect of safety so they do not feel intimidated.
Educating the child is not enough. Showing a lot of vigilance as a parent and paying minute attention to the kind of circumstances that we are putting the child in, is important.
Author: Prasanna Vasanadu is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.