Since last two days discussion at my chai hangout has suddenly moved away from general elections. Everyone is talking about the new case about child abuse and giving out their verdict on who is responsible for this tragedy.
So far people have blamed the accused, school authorities, parents, Bollywood, media, even the child's religion. Castration and painful death seem to be popular choice of punishment for the abusers. While the anger and anguish is very justified, should we not be doing more to stop this preventable crime?
As a child psychiatrist who helps affected children and their families, I know that everyone is responsible except the child. Yes, we all are collectively responsible for this crime. As a society and as adults we have not done our bit to safeguard our little ones.
Passing a strict law against child abuse and posting lady attendants in school buses is necessary but not enough to protect kids from child abusers. We need action on two fronts –
Accept that each child is vulnerable. Children from all strata of society are equally affected. Money, cast, religion, language, education, family size, even gender of the children does not protect them. Boys and girls are equally affected till they hit puberty!
Let's educate all children in their schools and families to protect themselves from "bad touch" by using three simple steps. No-go-tell. Children must know that nobody is allowed to touch them on chest, bottom and between legs. If anyone attempts that, it is wrong. Child should protest by shouting "no" if possible. Then child must try and get away from that place as quickly as possible and finally the child must tell this to a trusted adult (preferably a woman) as soon as possible.
These simple actions can protect a child by stopping most abusers in their track because abusers try indecent touch for few days before proceeding with the heinous act.
In 90% cases of child abuse, the abuser is a person known to the child and he is someone the family entrusts the child with. They are male relatives, teachers, sports coaches, art teachers, attendants, household help, religious teachers, school staff, etc. Almost all abusers are male.
By being mindful of universality of child abuse and immunising our children with "no-go-tell" technique, we can protect our children. All schools must conduct this 10-minute workshop in every classroom at the beginning of each term so that children are always aware of their own safety. Let's create a culture where children feel free to talk to at least one adult.
This case is not the first one to hit the media and our conscience. Let's make it the last one by our collective willpower, effort and positive action.
Dr. Bhooshan Shukla is a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist