Children start learning about themselves and the world around them from a young age. They are naturally curious about things and are natural explorers too. So as a parent or a caregiver or as a society at large it becomes our collective responsibility to provide them with a nurturing environment where they can fulfill their curiosity. Now the environment and reality in which we live is not always conducive to our children’s growth.
“Sexual Abuse” is a term that we have been hearing and ignoring from past few decades by holding a typical image about it. As parents, we find it difficult to talk about it with our children and ignore its high prevalence in our country. As per the latest data, in India, every second girl child and every third boy child has been “sexually abused”. The sexual offender has an equal probability of being a male or a female. In my experience of working with parents and teachers, sex and sexuality is one of the trickiest topics ever to talk to with children.
Let us examine why this is so; firstly the adults themselves are not comfortable with the topic. For most people even uttering the word sex is a taboo and cannot be discussed openly and scientifically. This is in strong contradiction to the fact that all of us have originated from it. Sex is the reason for our existence. Secondly, the fact that the adults themselves have never been talked about sex in a scientific way and this reinforces their beliefs around sex as a taboo subject.
If we dig a little deeper into the meaning of sex education and break the two words sex and education then what do we get?
1. Sex which according to the dictionary means being male or female on the basis of their reproductive functions and another meaning is sexual intercourse.
2. Education, which is the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
So, sex education means educating about the male and female. To put simply it is body science. Simple isn’t it?
Let’s take the initiative; coach and train our children on ‘sex’ – starting from what is sexual abuse; how they can protect themselves, how not to perpetuate it themselves, about their bodies, how they came into this world, safe sex etc. Let’s create an environment at home where they feel safe to share and ask whatever they want to and not only get the support they are looking for but also get the right answers. If each one of us takes it on for our own children – we would create an entirely new world- A safe world for our children.
You may say this is easier said than done. The question is how do we break the taboo surrounding this subject? If we keep referring back to what exactly sex education means then we can shift our perspective and look at it as it actually is i.e. body science. Just like other types of body sciences that we teach our children for e.g. digestive system, respiratory system, brain science etc. In the same way sex education is also one body science that we need to teach them. Considering the alarming number of crimes committed with children in the name of sexual abuse, it becomes all the more important for all stakeholders (parents, teachers and other care givers) in a child’s life to take the reins in their hands and educate our children scientifically.
A few points to keep in mind:
1. START EARLY – As a child is born, he/she is a respectful and whole being in his own right. Parents start communicating with their baby right after birth. This communication needs to be respectful and will build on different topics over time. Right from the start a parent must use correct body parts names to the baby. The baby shouldn’t be held naked in front of anybody other than the parent. Form a culture of respect right from the beginning.
2. TALK ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE WHEN THE CHILD STARTS GOING OUT – As soon as a child turn 2 or 3, they are enrolled in play schools and other classes. This is the right time to start talking to them about good/bad touch and about child sexual abuse in detail and training them to deal if such a situation arises. Sexual abuse is an epidemic all over the world and we are not doing them any favors by delaying this talk. As soon as the child begins to step out of the house and is on his own the world is his oyster. However this talk doesn’t need to happen on one special occasion but needs to gradually build up as part of routine conversations. Some parents also feel that such talks take away the innocence in a child. To that I would say education never kills innocence. It kills ignorance. Children need the education and correct language to talk about how they feel or what they are experiencing. And giving them sex education is the best way we can protect them from abuse.
3. SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ALWAYS HARSH IN NATURE – Contrary to what we generally hear about sexual abuse, it is not always harsh in nature. It can be as subtle as a gentle but consistent touch on a child’s private parts. A child can be made to believe that nothing wrong is happening and that what is actually abuse appears to them as something which is ‘normal’. The mainstream media which often glorifies intimate scenes that lack consent and portrays women as a being without voice by often objectifying them doesn’t help either. In such a scenario it becomes all the more critical to educate our children about sex and abuse in a timely manner using the correct scientific terms.
4. IT IS NOT A ONE TIME CONVERSATION – Many parents feel that there is actually a ‘birds and the bees’ talk that can be covered in a chat or two. But sex education is not just about body parts, good touch and bad touch, it’s not just reproduction or pregnancy. It also covers body image, peer pressure, feelings, body changes and many other things. It has to be continuous and regular conversation and no one has to wince and sit down for a serious chat. And once you have talked about the most taboo subject then can their anything be left hidden between you and your child? Think about it. Remember if you don’t talk about sex education to your kids, they will get it from unreliable sources sooner or later because we can’t stop their questions and curiosity about their own bodies.
I have a plea to make to every person reading this article, please don’t hesitate to make an open conversation about this topic, and make everyone aware about this plague of sexual abuse that nobody speaks about. Let’s not raise another child who feels ashamed to exist and blames self because of what happened to her/him which he had absolutely no control over. Let’s create an educated and empowered society together. Shift your context from ‘junk’ or ‘taboo’ to ‘body science’.