The brutal murder of seven-year-old child in a school bathroom in Delhi, has led to a serious concern for not only parents but the school administration too. Incidents like these including sexual abuse, assault, negligence, safety, etc. have become more frequent and are by no means isolated incidents. The key question that arises in the minds of the parents is how safe are our children? This article focuses on the shared responsibilities of parents and the school administration to make safe spaces for our children.
1. Building partnership between home & the school:
Both parents and the teachers would like to see the children succeed and the success is greatly enhanced when there is a solid partnership and trust between parents and the school authorities. In many school’s partnership is a challenge due to the sheer number of students, as a result the children are the victims. Schools will have to think of building strong partnerships with parents and in-turn build solid communities of families and teachers who will work together and create a safe environment for children. At the same time the parents should also respect the space that is provided by the schools and not overstep into the role of the school administration. This is a delicate and time consuming process but is a foundation and a prerequisite to create a safe place for the children.
2. Explain boundaries:
Most parents find it challenging and sensitive to discuss or talk to children about sexual abuse. The bigger dilemma with parents is the right age to build awareness about sexual abuse. The answer is simple, start early and gradually. Start with introducing different body parts and use the right labels. Let the children know that there are four body parts which nobody should be allowed to touch other than the parents: they are lips, chest, private parts between the legs and buttocks. Children should be told that they must report to the parents or teachers if anybody touches these body parts inappropriately. Children should also be clearly informed that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts. Once again this is the joint responsibility of the parents and the school. Parents and teachers should use proper names for the body parts without getting embarrassed. The next step is to explain to the children the difference between “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch”. Parents and teachers should create a positive and safe environment for children to ask questions, seek clarifications and more importantly they should feel safe to report any inappropriate touch.
3. Minimize opportunities:
Most sexual abuses occur in isolated spaces. If parents and the school authorities can eliminate or minimize such spaces, instances of child abuse will be dramatically reduced. Schools should make sure that children are supervised always. Multiple adults should be positioned around washrooms, play areas, pick up and drop off points. All adults should be vigilant and watch out for children moving around alone. Many child abusers are family members or an acquaintance who often becomes friendly with potential victims and their families, earning trust and will gain time alone with the children. In the neighborhood parks, adults should take turns to monitor the safety of their children.
4. Encourage communication
Children should know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable. Children should know that their voice will be heard and will be taken seriously when they report inappropriate behavior from an adult. This gives the children the courage to speak up and they will not hesitate from sharing. If the incident is reported by the child to the parent than this calls for a discreet investigation by the parents. If the child reports inappropriate behavior to the teacher, this must be immediately reported to trained school counsellor and the head of the school. If the incident has occurred in the school premises, the school should immediately investigate, and report the incident including the steps taken by the school to the parents. If the incident has occurred outside the school premises the parents should be informed. It is a good practice for the schools to regularly arrange training programs/ orientation sessions to the teachers, administrative staff and helper staff to prevent sexual abuse in schools.
5. Monitor internet usage:
Internet-connected digital devises are a new threat and they are here to stay. They will do more harm than good if the children are not educated. Schools should have necessary policies and processes in place to monitor the internet usage. Schools should regularly educate parents of the challenges and the steps the school is taking to monitor the usage. Parents should also take steps to monitor the usage at home. This is a joint responsibility of the parents and the schools. It is easy for the children to get exposed to age-inappropriate content and potential offenders often use the internet to lure children into physical contact.
Building a community of adults who would work towards the safety of the children should be the objective of any school, neighbourhood or family. Some steps that schools, neighbourhoods and families should undertake is to employ staff only after a thorough police verification. It is important that abusers are reported to the nearest police without exception so that it does not embolden the abuser. Build awareness amongst children about keeping themselves safe both physically and emotionally.