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Child safety: A neglected issue in pre-primary education

PANEL DISCUSSION

Child safety: A neglected issue in pre-primary education

Against the backdrop of several sexual molestation atrocities visited upon children as young as two and three across the country, the first panel discussion of the EW ECE Global Conference 2015 comprising Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mumbai M. Sanke (ACP); Jacinth Portess (JP), head of the Indus Early Learning Centre, Bangalore; Shalini Ahuja (SA), promoter-CEO of Safe Baby, a Mumbai-based company focused on child safety; Carrie Udeshi (CU), a child rights activist and advisor of the Billabong International School, Vadodara and chaired by Dilip Thakore (DT), Editor, EducationWorld, deliberated the subject ‘Child Safety — A Neglected Issue in Pre-primary Education’.

DT: All right-thinking people are alarmed and disgusted by the rising incidence of sexual abuse of infants countrywide, reported almost daily. According to me this emerging national malady is the outcome of the tidal wave of pornography streaming into India over the internet, and imbalancing the huge number of ill-educated people within the country. ACP Sanke, I’d like to know if the Central or state governments have made any attempt to technologically block the inflow of pornography easily available on the internet?

ACP: It is not the function of the police to advise government on policy matters and it is technically very difficult to block objectionable material streamed into the country through the social media. Meanwhile, it is the duty of parents to monitor what children view on social media at home and teach them about safety and sexuality from a young age. In school, teachers need to teach male children to accord respect and dignity to girl children from their early years.

JP: I agree. Parents and teachers need to be educated on the subject. In our school we invite experts and psychologists to talk to parents and teachers on how to respond to children who start asking questions about their physiology and reproduction, and advise children about good touch and bad touch. It’s wrong to shush young children and react as though these are dirty questions. PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meetings are a very good forum for parents and teachers to discuss this subject which can no longer be brushed under the carpet.

CU: The crucial conversation about body parts and reproduction should happen between parents and their children. Parents are usually inhibited about initiating this vital conversation. Therefore they need to be advised by teachers and school authorities on how to deal with this subject. I agree with Jacinth that workshops and PTA meetings are good forums to encourage and advise parents to discuss sex and sexuality issues with their children as early as possible. If these issues are discussed frankly and freely, parents will be prepared to answer children’s questions and teach them about good and bad touch. Being upfront will also help children develop the confidence to report instances of abuse and molestation. 

SA: While it’s important for children to be educated about body parts, good and bad touch etc, it’s also important they should feel free and enjoy their childhood. School managements should get parents involved and educate them as well. A three-year-old child must understand that any touch that makes her ‘uncomfortable’ is a bad touch. As they grow older, the school can educate children on the complexity of the topic. Establishing open communication channels between parents, children and teachers will make them feel safe and secure. More critically, teachers and staff must be hired after careful background checks and schools must maintain detailed information about all employees.

CU: Beyond advising parents and children to take precautions about sexual abuse which is admittedly very important, the larger issue of child safety in various situations needs to be given much greater attention. There’s too much laxity on transportation, fire exits, hanging wires, and hygiene and sanitation which are all safety issues. It’s high time school managements focused on all aspects of child safety and anticipate worst case scenarios. Fire drills need to be conducted regularly in schools, and toilets, quality of drinking water and hygiene and sanitation inspections need to be routinely conducted. School managements need to develop a new child-safety mindset.

DT: In this connection the issue of introducing sex education in schools has been obfuscated for too long…

JP: I agree. While awareness of physiology should start in pre-primary education, there’s no excuse for teenage children not being made aware of reproduction, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Such education is normative for children in class IX onwards the world over.

DT: Commissioner, there are widespread complaints that police personnel are insensitive to crimes against women and children. Would you be agreeable to the Early Childhood Association (ECA) conducting workshops for police personnel to sensitise them to women and child safety issues?

ACP: We are already conducting workshops for police personnel in Mumbai on these issues and would certainly welcome any help from the ECA to educate our men and women on handling sensitive child abuse cases.

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