After centuries of being shoved under the carpet, the truth is out. And we, as Indians, should stop, hold our breath, drop our heads in shame, and introspect.
Here are the prominent facts:
- India has the largest number of children (375 million) in the world, nearly 40% of its population
- 69% of Indian children are victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (or read it as every 2 out of 3)
- New Delhi, the nation’s capital, has an abuse rate of over 83%
- 89% of the crimes are perpetrated by family members
- Boys face more abuse (>72%) than girls (65%)
- More than 70% of cases go unreported and unshared even with parents/family
What can we do? Here are my thoughts:
- Educate our children about sex. While state governments are on a spree to ban sex education in schools, we can make a difference ourselves. If you are parents, educate your child about appropriate/inappropriate behavior, when to trust whom and how much, how to speak their mind out, etc. This can be (and should be) much before the “birds and bees” education.
- If you are not parents yourselves, but know and care about other families of friends and relatives, open up this topic for discussion and encourage the parents to do what is right.
- If you leave your child at a creche, play-house, or use baby-sitters, carefully screen such places and people. Talk to other parents who have used their services before. Be safe and sure rather than trust blindly. I know nurseries in India who use opium or other narcotic drugs to put babies and children to sleep so they can be managed (and usually abused) easily. If you think this is not true, talk to any child counselor or child care social worker in any Indian metro, who will educate you about the truth.
- If you think talking about sex is difficult for you, don’t just be embarrassed, shrug it off, and give it up. Many parents don’t know their children are victims, and live in a fantasy world of “nothing like that would ever happen to my child”. Talk to your parents in order to understand what difficulties they had to face culturally when bringing you up. That may give clues to how to overcome cultural taboos.
- Change the “Elders are authority, always right, always to be respected” culture to “Elders are always to be respected, unless they act wrongly” culture. This attitude, for centuries, has encouraged the perpetrators of such crimes, and would be the most difficult to change. But it’s never too late to start.
- Be sensitive to your friends, family, and acquaintances. Some of them may be victims of a dark past. Be a friend and couselor for them if they ever need your support.
- Monitor, screen, and filter if necessary, the way your children use the Net. Teach them about the importance of privacy when using instant messaging, email, or social networking sites. As a corollary, if you know parents who are not Net-savvy, but have bought a PC and net access at home for their children, teach the parents about the dangers associated with pornography and the Net. Not being savvy themselves, they may be naive or not knowledgeable.
- Talk and share your experiences with other parents. Let us learn from each other, and do our best to make society safer for our children.
- Finally, spread the word. Spread the awareness. We owe it to the next generation.
With the knowledge that our children know the basic facts to safeguard themselves, we can at least hope to hold our heads high once again.