Lost innocence: Scars that fester

Updated: Jan 21 2007, 05:30am hrs
Right from the number of bodies recovered from Nithari to abduction of three-year-old Anant Gupta from outside his home, the cold fact facing society today is that childhood in India, especially in the big cities, is anything but safe. And if you care to look beyond the newspaper headlines, you will realise there are innumerable undisclosed cases of child abuse happening when parents are off to work, leaving their kids behind with relatives or personal computers.

Pratichi Jain has been a victim of the latter case. Working with an IT firm in the NCR, she gave her son a computer on his birthday. It was much later that she realised that her son had easy access to major pornographic sites. When asked, he suggested that it happened when his seniors in the school introduced him to a porno site. It took us months of counselling to make him comfortable again. The biggest loss was that he grew up much faster than other kids of his age, says the mother, who has now alerted her younger child about sexual abuse and allied threats hovering around.

Mothers like Sonia Joshi fear leaving their daughter with anyone, including the maid and driver at home. I have seen my niece going through emotional turmoil when she saw one of her friends pulled from the bus stop in broad daylight. The child, though later recovered, was down with fever for almost a month. This is enough to scare any child, she says.

In short, there is a crying need to rethink. The ultimate pressure today is teaching children about these threats. Amidst the current social scenario, information must be given at the age when they start to articulate things, says Vidya Reddy, executive director of Chennai-based Tulir, Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.

According to Reddy, kids start becoming aware of happenings around them at two years nine months. Its important for both parents and teachers to make children aware about voyeurism, exhibitionism, fondling, molestation and rape, she says.

Reddy says touching of childrens private parts, exhibitionism and being forced into watching pornography are the commonest form of abuse.

To begin with, young kids can be educated by the use of dolls or stories or acting out the situations, so to say. What is essential is telling them that it is not right to touch someone elses private body parts or someone to ask them to touch their private body parts; neither is it right for someone to take photos or videos of children with their clothes off nor show them photos or videos of nude people. Telling them to differentiate between the kinds of touching and handling emergency situations is as essential, says the expert.

The approach is: believing the child, being calm, and supportive to the child, reporting the abuse, and most importantly telling the child that he or she was never at fault.