From the Chota book of Parenting Chapter 7
By Dr Sunita Maheshwari
Any parent’s worst nightmare is the phone call informing that their child has been kidnapped or abused – either physically or sexually. In India, results from a government survey in 2010 suggest that 2 out of every 3 children suffer from physical abuse (86% caused by parents), 53% children face one or more forms of sexual abuse, and every second child reported facing emotional abuse. So, one out of every two children in our country faces some kind of abuse. Scary, sad and something that needs to be changed.
Not only do children suffer acutely from the physical and mental cruelty of child abuse, they endure many long-term consequences, including delays in reaching developmental milestones, refusal to attend school and separation anxiety disorders. Other consequences include an increased likelihood of future substance abuse, aggressive behaviors, high-risk health behaviors, criminal activity, depressive and affective disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, schizophrenia, and, abuse of their own children and spouse. Recent research has shown that a loving, caring and stimulating environment during the first three years of a child’s life is important for proper brain development. This finding implies that children who receive maltreatment in these early years may actually have suboptimal brain development.
So, as a parent, what can one do to prevent abuse and how can one detect this so protection can be offered before it is too late?
From when a child can comprehend things, one needs to emphasize repeatedly but gently:
-No going with someone you don’t know.
-If someone you don’t know gives you a toffee or a sweet don’t take it, run back home.
-If someone you don’t know tells you Mama or Papa sent them to fetch you… don’t believe them, go to someone you know and check.
It is okay to help children understand the scary consequences of going away with a stranger by explaining ‘he may kidnap you and take you away’ or ‘he may hurt you’. Better to have a suspicious child who looks at strangers with caution, than a naïve one who runs into anybody’s arms/devices.
One can minimize risk of abduction by teaching children about strangers and why they must not go with them, by being there at the bus stop, by having someone escort them to where they need to go and by having someone watch them as they play until they are old enough to look after themselves.
Physical Abuse Alert
There are several forms of abuse that children can be subjected to and as parents, it is our duty to ensure that children are allowed to bloom and flourish without being thrust into a dark world of abuse.
Physical abuse is easier to recognize as bruises, welts or black eyes are tell tale signs. When giving your child a bath if you see a bruise, ask how they got it. Look into their eyes and make sure they are not lying to protect someone. If the child is too young to articulate a response, be suspicious – even if the domestic help says it was a fall – ask for more details. A bruise recurring repeatedly, a bruise or fracture in an odd location – these could be signs of child physical abuse and as a parent, one needs to take action. Action could include having a second adult around the child and not leaving the child alone with one care giver; installing a small hidden camera when one is not at home to ensure that the help or the baby sitter are not using methods of discipline that they should not be; sudden checks, i.e., say you will not be back for 6 hours but return silently in an hour and check in.
Sexual Abuse Alert
Sexual abuse can be more difficult to recognize especially if there is no actual vaginal or anal penetration. In children old enough to emote, some tell tale signs that things are amiss could be…
-Refusal to go to a particular adults home alone or on the school bus with a particular driver. Don’t force them to, investigate further.
-Sudden bursts of crying, anger, withdrawal, sleeplessness, anxiety. Investigate this further.
-Unexplained red bruises or rashes in the peri-anal area.
-Sudden unusual interest in body parts or playing ‘sexual games’ with dolls.
Sexual abuse can happen anywhere and by anyone – in a school bus, in the next room, in an office, at home by an uncle, an older cousin, a friend or a tuition teacher. And remember boys are just as susceptible to abuse as girls. As parents we need to remember this: anywhere and by anyone.
If one is aware, one can take preventive steps to try and preempt such torture being inflicted on one’s innocent child.
Educate on Good Touch, Bad Touch
Explain ‘good touch’ versus ‘bad touch’ to your child. You can give examples and play act with them to explain. e.g., uncle rubbing child’s breasts – bad touch, Mama patting child’s hair – good touch, driver Uncle making you sit on this lap and rubbing his privates against you – bad touch, etc. Also explain, repeatedly and gently, that if ever a bad touch happens they should come and tell Mama or Papa who will then make the bad touch person go away. Make your child feel secure that if they confide in you, you will take care of things and won’t let them get hurt again.
Avoid situations where your child is alone with an adult for prolonged periods of time. e.g., if the driver is taking one child alone to school try to send a maid or a grandparent or someone else along; if your child is the last drop on the school bus, request the school that a teacher or another supervisor be there until the drop off as bus drivers or boy assistants are best not left alone with a child who cannot defend him or herself. If you have a baby sitter at home, request the neighbor to pop in and check on things ever so often. If there is a male uncle or cousin or family friend visiting who offers to ‘look after’ your younger child while you go out, ensure you leave another female adult in the house. If there is a tuition master or a music teacher coming in, ensure the class is in the open, not behind a closed door.
If your child tells you the driver uncle or someone has been giving her chocolates everyday – immediately get your antenna up – does he give it to all kids? Has he tried to touch you? Is he ever alone with you? Ask questions, and if you are not satisfied with the answers, investigate!
Abuse can destroy a childhood, scar a mind and devastate a body. Remember – it can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone… be alert, be suspicious, be proactive in preventing it from happening to your child and be protective.