Teaching kids to scream HELP!

Jan 29, 2012, 08:08 IST | Anjana Vaswani

Quasi-government organisation Childline recently launched its Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Program for schools, and while their 24-hour helpline that ensures an intervention unit responds to complaints within 60 minutes is a welcome initiative, with a child-killer on the loose, we're hoping the organisation gets all the support it needs to expand operations, and fast

Does your child know what to do if she or he spots someone meandering suspiciously around the playground? Will your child know how to respond should a stranger try to lure her or him? If you're confident you've taught them well � of course your kids would know what to do -- ask yourself if your answer would be the same, if the predator was a familiar face...someone your child recognises, a friend of yours perhaps or a relative even. According to US statistics, 80 to 95 per cent of paedophiles assault children they know.

Now you may like to believe the same doesn't apply in India, but a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (GOI) that brought to light alarming statistics relates specifically to the Indian context and Childline Project Coordinator Anubhuti Lal shares some of the alarming figures that emerged from this. "53.2 per cent of Indian children are abused by the age of 18," she says handing us a leaflet as she adds that kids aged seven to 12 were identified as the most vulnerable group. The leaflet labelled, "Childline 1098," is one your child may have brought home recently if your child attends one of the 62 schools across Mumbai that the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Program has been extended to, but if they haven't visited your child's school, here are some figures mentioned in the sealed flyer that's sent out to parents: one in 10 children is sexually abused at some point of time; A child below 16 years is raped every 2 hours, a child below 10 years is raped every 13th hour.

What makes these statistics even more chilling is the fact that there is, what is believed to be, a serial killer on the loose. The dead body of a three year-old girl was found on January 18 in Cuffe Parade. Just two months before, the body of another three year-old girl was recovered from the same spot.

"Aside from handing out these sealed flyers for parents," 20 year-old Sonakshi Anand, a student of St  Xavier's College who underwent the two-day training programme to join forces with the organisation tells us, "We use charts and a story to relay the sensitive message. And while kids may giggle and blush at first, the point is driven home by school book labels we hand out, upon which the kids are asked to print the name of an adult they trust." Marked with the emergency number, these labels, the organisation hopes, will serve as a reminder about whom the child can and must turn to -- the programme stresses on the need to communicate -- while also reminding them about the story that highlights the "private, swimsuit zone," and the difference between "Safe touch," and "Unsafe touch."

Though the 24-hour emergency is intended for any child in need of care and protection and Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Nishith Kumar admits that giving the number out freely to children does also yield comical complaints from little ones like, "I'm being forced to go to school," at times, he also tells us about the grim reality of those "silence-calls" they receive. "At first some children dial the number but are afraid to speak; two or three blank calls later, our call-takers may make a breakthrough and the child may find a voice." Adults can call too, and frequently do, Kumar shares, "to report everything from instances where they've seen a child being abused physically to sightings of child beggars." On one occasion, when someone reported a bunch of children being led through a remote path by two suspicious-looking adults, Kumar tells us, "Prompt action from our Intervention Unit (IU) led to the arrest of child-traffickers."

Of course each call doesn't require the deployment of an IU, it's nice to know the group has tie-ups with NGOs, social workers and police authorities (they have 445 such partners across the country) to act instantly. Still Childline is a mammoth project and they do need both, sponsors to fund their expansion programmes and volunteers -- they're hoping to encourage homemakers to sign up and all they need to do is attend the two-day training programme and then conduct awareness sessions at schools in their area -- but, at the very least, what you can do right away is ask your children to memorise the number 1098, ask them to call it even if they just feel threatened and, reiterate the message that volunteers are currently taking to schools, which is, when you're attacked or even approached by a suspicious stranger, "Scream for help! Scream as loudly as you can!"
To sign up with Childline call 23881098 or 23841098 or log onto www.childlineindia.org.in

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