Why is it SO Important to Know and Understand CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The number of child abuse cases coming to light seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour, 4 children in India suffer from abuse. Often, in the same day’s newspaper, more than one child abuse incident is reported. Moreover, these cases are not restricted to a particular gender or economic class. In fact, contrary to popular perception, young boys are at a higher risk of sexual abuse than girls.

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No parent feels secure today. Many parents are worried when they leave their child alone even in safe or secure places. I have an eight year old son, and whenever he goes down to play in our apartment complex, one part of me is always worried. This is despite the fact that I live in a gated community, where strangers are not allowed in without permission and small children are not allowed to go out on their own. This is in such stark contrast to our own childhoods, where we played outside our homes fearlessly and our parents were assured of our safe return.

Living in such times, the FIRST THING that we as parents should know is WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. Most people erroneously believe it be only physical abuse. Inappropriate gestures or sounds with sexual intent, making a child watch objectionable content, all come under the category of abuse. It involves mental, physical and emotional abuse of a child through overt and covert sexual acts.

The NEXT most important thing is to MAKE YOUR CHILD AWARE OF ABUSE. Even a small child can understand the difference between private parts of the body and good and bad touch. I attended a workshop on sexuality during my college days, where during a session on child abuse, someone shared a very interesting anecdote. One of her friends had taught their young child about private parts and told her that if anyone other than her own parents touched her there, she should just yell, “Don’t touch my booboo”!!! Admittedly, it led to some fun and embarrassing moments, but the parents were at least secure in the knowledge that their child could scream out if required. Next, tell your child not to keep any secrets from mommy and daddy. This is important because typically, the perpetrator convinces the child that this is a secret between the two of them. Finally, parents should always keep channels of communication very strong between them and their children. It is only then that children will feel secure sharing their fears or negative experiences and emotions. For slightly older children – preteens and teens, it is important that parents start discussing sensitive issues such as attraction, crushes, relationships, sex and abuse. Children need to know that they have a right to say no when they are not comfortable in any situation. And also to not give in to peer pressure.

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THIRDLY, be able to recognize any signs of sexual abuse in your child. I think it is important to be aware of any cues the child may be giving – any change in behavior, refusal to go to any particular place or meet a certain person, any kind of pain or any bruises on the body should not be ignored. Other symptoms could include insomnia, bed wetting, a clingier than normal child, or a child who is withdrawn. Guilt and shame or confusion are very common feelings a child might go through. A parent, sensitive to the child’s subtle changes will be able to recognize such feelings more easily.

It is also important to be aware that the ‘abuser’ can be lurking anywhere – in our homes, in our housing complexes, in schools or in public places – in the form of friendly uncles, household help, guards, conductors, even friends or older peers – you name it. It is well known that most cases of sexual abuse happen with people whom the child knows.

In this scenario schools and day care centres become very important in partners in children’s safety and security. A child spends more time at these institutions than at home. It is natural for parents to want to ensure that the safety measures being taken are sufficient. There are a number of things that schools can do safeguard their students against child abuse.

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The first and foremost and also the easiest is to put in place physical infrastructure that can prevent abuse. Simple measures such as CCTV cameras in various parts of the school can be an obvious deterrent. Ensuring that support staff such as drivers, conductors, administrative department etc. are not allowed access to the school wing and have facilities that are separate from those of the students can also go a long way in enhancing security. Ideally there should also be a separation between senior students and the younger ones. Many young teenagers can also become perpetrators. School buses can also have CCTV cameras and any change in bus staff should be duly informed to the parents. A lot of the newer schools already have many of these facilities in place. Many day care centres allow parents access to live footage of the babies. Moreover, schools should have a no tolerance policy in cases of child abuse.

Secondly, it is important to educate both teachers and students about sexual abuse. This should be taught in all classes and children should be encouraged to reach out to an elder in times of difficulty. There should be anonymous helplines in place as well as counsellors in school. Schools should also put posters across the school, so that the issue of child sexual abuse does not become taboo to talk about. Teachers should also be trained about recognizing potential perpetrators as well as how to respond if a child approaches them or they observe a case of child abuse.

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Finally, as a society, it is important that we act in a concerted manner against the menace of child abuse – be gentle and responsive parents, alert citizens and responsible educators and care givers. It is important to break the silence around the issue and mainstream the discussion so that more and more parents and therefore their children become aware of child abuse and prevent such cases. As a society we should be able to raise confident and secure children, children who live in safety and are free to reach their true potential.

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This article was first published in April 2018 issue of The Education Insights

Grieving the Loss of the Perfect Child

From the time a baby is conceived, parents and close family start weaving their dreams around it. How would it look like, a girl or a boy, what kind of a person will she grow into and so on. We all have our image of a perfect baby, the perfect child. He is an embodiment of our dreams and aspirations.

When we found out we were having twins, we were ecstatic. Images of fun filled laughter, two little babies gamboling together, two pairs of little feet running around the house, filled our minds. We loved watching twin videos on YouTube, tickled with the thought that this fun would soon be ours. When Abeer and Anvay were born – we talked often about how they would turn out when they grow. Abeer, the attitude kid, looked set to become a Rockstar and Anvay, with his perfectly proportioned body was going to be our super model. We imagined the two boys and their same aged cousin, in their early twenties at Arnav’s wedding. Three lanky young boys, having the time of their lives.

But now I am not so sure if these images would ever become reality. Because unknown to us, while we celebrated the birth of our twins, Anvay had sustained brain damage. Anvay, the healthier of the two, who was not even a likely candidate, had sustained brain damage. I have no clue, what happened between the two minutes between the time they both came out, that led to this. Their birth was apparently normal. The doctors did not find any anomaly. In fact, they did not even do an MRI when Anvay was discharged (which they did on Abeer) from the hospital – I am assuming because nobody expected what had happened.

The news that your baby is damaged is devastating to any parent. Devastating is actually putting it very lightly. It rocks the world of the parents. All the dreams, hopes and desires come crashing down. The process of grieving begins. Yes, it is grieving. You grieve for what could have been, what should have been and why it isn’t what should have been.  The parent grieves for the loss of the perfect child, the imagined child. A parent will typically go through all the stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and eventual acceptance. I recently read a blog from a parent who writes about grieving for a child she has not lost.

I like to believe I am stoic. And I am, to the extent of being able to control my emotions outwardly. I took the news as normally as possible – showing concern, but able to hide the panic. Reading pages after pages on his condition and internalising all the good and bad scenarios. I managed to harden myself to the extent of being able to talk about it without losing composure. I told a few friends/colleagues – but I opened my mouth only when the instinct to break down had been pushed down to the depths of my stomach. I can proudly say that I managed to explain his condition as objectively as possible. The discussions with the neurologist were kept as matter of fact as possible – even humourous.

 

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But grief has a way of coming out. You hold it tightly at one end, it will slip out from another. I remember watching Dunkirk and realized I was crying – it had nothing to do with the movie. Sometime on a plane – watching Hello Zindagi, I discovered my face was all teared up. I can’t remember the number of times I have cried sitting in the backseat of my car, safe in the knowledge that my driver doesn’t have eyes in his head. But I learnt to let the tears flow. They needed to come out, for us to be able to move ahead and plan for Anvay’s recovery, with a clear head.

Anvay was 6 months old (corrected age 4 months), when his pediatrician said that his muscle tone is high. It made no sense to me. He then went on to say something about spasticity – which rang a bell in my mind. Spastic? Does that not mean mentally retarded? (it does not) I was immediately horrified and the image of a helpless, mentally retarded child went through my mind. And laughably, one of my thoughts was whether he would ‘look’ normal. That, really is the least of my concerns.

Once we got the MRI done, we got a confirmed diagnosis of PVL – a form of white matter damage in the brain. Our pediatrician (he is a great guy) told us not to worry. He had seen many cases, where children with PVL after initial years of struggle went on to lead perfectly normal lives. Though he was concerned about his CVI – which is a visual impairment where the eyes can see but the brain cannot perceive. But when we found out that Anvay was also having seizures, also known as infantile spasms, he sounded pessimistic for the first time. And that I think also finally sagged my spirits.

However, there is hope. His spasms seem to have been mild and were treated within one month. They have not recurred since and we have our fingers crossed till he turns two. He is improving – albeit slowly – but that is expected. He is rolling now, holding things in his hand and the other day, he ate a biscuit on his own. Every little step he takes is a cause for great happiness. He is a very happy baby and has the loveliest smile – it makes our day when he smiles at us. His naughty little personality has also started to shine through!

I talked about our dreams crashing. But I had also started the new year with a new hope. We are rebuilding our dreams. I believe in the human spirit – that it can rise up to any challenge and overcome it. I am sure Anvay and we will find a way. If one door closes, there are many others waiting to open – we just need to be willing to look for them…

Anvay IS my perfect child – as different and as unique as my other two….

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Abeer – Living with a bratty Toddler!

All of 1.25 Kgs, Abeer stepped into this world 8 weeks early. Tiny and all tubed up – is how Kapil and I saw him for the first time. Our hearts went out to the little one – but almost immediately, both of us commented that he looks like a Rockstar. We were of course not alluding to any good looks – at that size and weight, he could best be described as ugly (barely human) – it was his attitude – there was something in the expression even then, that said, I care two hoots!  We didn’t realise then, how close to the mark we were! Now that he is 15 months, he looks us straight in the eye (with a devilish glint in his own), baiting us, before proceeding to do the exact thing he has been told (requested /pleaded/ begged) not to!!

We shouldn’t be surprised. I think we had enough warning even while he was in the womb. Fetus A. That is how we knew him, through the 32 weeks of my pregnancy. Fetus A was clearly the more feisty one – he was always on the move! I was sure that he was the wild girl I had always wanted. So sure, that I had already chosen a name for him and his twin – Aranya and Arin. Aranya means the forest, the jungle – apt name for my wild girl. Wild he is, girl he was not. Well at least I was right on one count!

Before we get to know Abeer, we need to get back to Arnav – our first born. A totally sweet tempered child, who never kept us awake during the night, who was so absolutely well behaved whether at home or outside that everyone was amazed. Baby proofing? No need! Protecting walls? Absolutely not! Toy shop tantrums? Never! Public embarrassment? Out of the question! People commended us on how well we were raising our baby! We credited the sweet nature of our child – but somewhere we were sure some credit must also go to us! If nothing else, at least our genes must have something to do with having the perfect child! But how wrong we were! Come Abeer, and any self-congratulatory thoughts we had about our parenting have been thrown out the door!

Even before he learnt to roll or sit, he had mastered all the bullying sounds ever. Aaiiih???AAiihh? AAIIhh? AAIIHH!!!! Screaming with an increasing volume and pitch, he sure knew how to get attention, without moving a limb. Nana and nani, two people devoted to him, were the most abused as well! There was no way nani could save her spectacles or bindi from being snatched away. These days, she is filling in as the pole Abeer uses to slide down the bed.

And let us not even talk about his treatment of the younger twin. I don’t think he even realizes that Anvay is also a living being. (or if he does, he has clearly decided to ignore that) He likes to go and plonk himself directly on Anvay’s face. If Anvay has a pacifier in his mouth, Abeer would surely pull it out and put it in his own. These days he loves to snatch the milk bottle out of Anvay’s mouth and either start drinking from it or put on its cap. Pulling his hair, crawling over him or sitting on him are totally normal in the course of the day.

And what about the sweet tempered elder brother? Well, on more than one occasion (multiple actually), Arnav has come crying to me, complaining how Abeer is bothering him – he has either slapped Arnav or is sitting in the middle of some game he is playing or maybe torn the current book he is reading. While Arnav is quite protective about Anvay, he looks at Abeer as his equally able opponent!! Since last week, Arnav has been the Jaeger and Abeer the Kaiju (those who have seen Pacific Rim will know what I am talking about)

 

And did I say, we didn’t believe in baby proofing? Really? Well, I am reconsidering. After having just learnt to walk, he leaves a trail of destruction behind him. Any room he decides to visit – is left ransacked. I think he would put Mahmud Ghazni (or was it Ghouri)  to shame. Oh and wait – once you see him pick up an object and send it sailing across the room – you would agree that he has a bright future in discus throwing.

But seriously can I blame him? There is clearly nothing else that is more exciting. I wonder really about the claims made by toy companies – how well researched each toy is – the colours, the texture, the sensory and gross motor skills the baby will develop etc etc. Well let me tell them, they are WRONG!  They have absolutely no clue what their target group likes – it is usually not toys. (Even the wrapping paper is preferred to the actual toy!) By the way, tearing the day’s fresh newspaper is one of his favourite past times :-/

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A toddler first of all loves the dustbin – the more full it is, the better he can throw things about. Second is a boring black laptop or a phone. No, it doesn’t have to be on. It will still attract the baby. Third – household cutlery – tell me one child who would prefer a toy truck over a sharp fork. And such fun in pulling out all utensils from the drawer and throwing them – have you heard the lovely sound that makes? Can any electric toy even compare with that sound? And now that it is summer – an open fridge will attract them like bees to honey. I cannot open the fridge without him getting between my legs and trying to pull out everything in sight. I can write pages….

And don’t think he doesn’t know what he is doing. He does. Very much. And then to make up, he turns on his full charm. He knows very well the effect of his lop sided smile, or his adorably cute singing and dancing routine (mix of bhangra and pop – we told you he is a rockstar, didn’t we?) and if that doesn’t work he starts walking backwards on the bed, spurring every adult in vicinity into action.

He is our source of non stop entertainment in his waking hours. Well no, even in his about to sleep hours – remember Sid from Ice Age? Yes? Remember the scene where he was trying to go to sleep? No? Look at this. Well this is exactly how Abeer goes off to sleep! Flipping and flopping on the bed – tossing around the entire length and breadth, before he finds a position and spot he is comfortable in. And mercifully he sleeps then. And so do we, happy at having survived another day! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………..

P.S. tell me your toddler stories too!