By Aswati Warrier*
Standing in a school ground under a cluster of trees, with nearly a 100 pair of curious eyes upon us, we started to broach the sensitive topic of child sexual abuse. The discomfort was palpable, but the conversation was crucial. Pulling the issue from under the rug, we visited 20 schools in Sira Taluk in Karnataka to talk to children about their safety and rights.
Teacher training to spread awareness on abuse
Recently, our team from Amnesty International India in partnership with South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), visited different government and government-aided schools in and around Sira taluk, Karnataka.
As part of the ‘Our Safety, Our Rights’ campaign, we had trained 34 teachers from different schools in Sira through 2019 on creating awareness and educating children as well as the community on identifying, preventing and reporting abuse. As the teachers took the program to the classroom, they needed guidance on how to implement a few activities that touched upon sensitive topics around child abuse.
It is difficult to talk to children on abuse. Trust must be built first, and trust is built slowly, through a series of conversations, activities and engagements. That’s why teachers are important. Next to parents, children trust their teachers the most.
Our team visited 20 different schools over the course of three days and interacted with more than 2000 students and over a hundred teachers. We demonstrated how activities with children must be conducted, how sensitive issues must be handled and also informed children on how to report.
Students from grades 8, 9 and 10 had gathered. Through a game, the children were introduced to child rights. They were then led into the discussions where based on the children’s experiences we introduced the topic of child safety.
Demystifying the topic
Teachers who had undergone our training reported, various challenges on the ground. Some schools had no equipment to project visual media and had to explain safe touch and unsafe touch without visual mediums. It was especially difficult for male teachers who to address the topic with young girls in their class. Also, most of the teachers only conducted the session with girl students Our team’s interaction with the students sought to make the process easier for the teachers and give them an understanding on how they could solve the challenges they face.
At every school, we sat down with both boys and girls and asked, “When have the students felt unsafe?” Initially hesitant, the students slowly opened up and gave honest insights.
A girl from Grade 9 said, “When we cycle back from school, the road is often deserted. It makes us feel very unsafe and in case we have to stop or have an accident like a tyre puncture, we feel very scared.”
Boys too had a lot to share, “Sometimes men make us go to alcohol or Ghutka (Tobacco) shops to buy things for them, or while passing through fields on our way home, they make us sit with them. I feel very unsafe and don’t know what to do.”
Other situations they spoke on included acquaintances of parents trying to talk to them, playing in local ground in small numbers, travelling alone in an auto rickshaw.
What needs to be done?
The most important question that came up was ‘what can the children do?’ One student promptly replied, “We keep our head down and walk away.” Another student replied “We must cover ourselves fully and walk.” However when discussed further the students felt, those actions didn’t help them feel safe.
For this, we helped them understand ways to report and small steps they can take to be safe.
We stressed upon the need to talk to a trusted adult about an unsafe situation. We helped the students internalize the action points- NO, GO and TELL! The need to say NO! when they felt unsafe: immediately moving away from the unsafe situation and most importantly, TELLing an adult they trust about the incident.
The children were given illustrated child safety booklets which further helped them understand reporting through ChildLine and the District Child Protection Committee. In schools where ‘Our Safety, Our Rights’ campaign had already taken off, students actively pointed out the role of Child Line, Police, Child Welfare Committee etc. as important reporting platforms.
A female student even pointed out, “I now understand the need to discuss these issues with adults like my mother or teacher who I trust and feel comfortable with.”
We left the school, with the children’s chant of Namma surakshate, Namma Hakkugalu (Our safety, Our rights in Kannada) still buzzing in our ears. Though fighting child sexual abuse is a long process, we left with hope that we could at least turn a few classrooms into safe spaces where children could break the silence and report with confidence.
*Programme Officer for Human Rights Education at Amnesty International India. Source: Amnesty International India