Unlearning safe touch with children – By The Alternative

Catching them young, Mumbai based NGO Arpan runs personal safety education classes in schools to identify and prevent child sexual abuse. Deepa Ranganathan observes how these sessions teach important lessons to kids on how to be safe.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is one of the most pervasive forms of violence existing in our society. A lot has been done and the passage of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is testimony to the fact the people’s efforts have borne some fruits. However, it is a continuous struggle and the challenge is to not only spread awareness but also to ensure that kids are fully aware and prepared to tackle any situation they may be pushed into.

As part of my field attachment in the second semester, I was placed in an organization that adopts the prevention of CSA as its core objective. Arpan, an NGO since its inception in 2003 based in Mumbai, has been relentlessly pursuing its dream of envisioning a world free from child sexual abuse. Apart from the many awareness campaigns and counselling services that Arpan provides, a major part of its work is going to schools in the city and nearby suburbs and imparting Personal Safety Education (PSE) skills to the kids. Taught to kids across Grade 1 and 6, the skills are expected to make a child more aware, appreciative and informed of his/her body and learn to identify his/her trusted adults in case of any untoward incident.

While my role there was that of an observer and an occasional participant, I was actively involved in the successful implementation and conduction of several PSE sessions in schools. Observing kids being taught to differentiate between safe and unsafe touch was one of the most enriching and learning experience for me. It was heartening to learn (and unlearn) so many things from one of the most sensitive and intelligent breed of the human population.

Each PSE session consists of six modules, i.e., six lessons on how to identify and prevent CSA. These lessons are aimed at building confidence in every child that he/she is special and unique, building the child’s self-esteem, developing a vocabulary to understand self’s feelings, recognizing safe and unsafe situations, introduction to different kinds of touches—safe/unsafe, appropriate/inappropriate, introduction to private parts of the male and female body, identifying a trusted adult and finally, to underline how self-blaming prevents reportage and that it’s never too late to report matters of abuse.

The Personal Safety Education (PSE) team consists of trainers who go to schools and other educational institutions and set-ups as temporary teachers to conduct sessions for children from Grade 1-6. The teaching that is imparted to these children is based on systematic and detailed instruction manuals for every grade from 1 to 6 respectively. These manuals have been compiled by Arpan after over four years of work and piloting the project in leading city schools. The idea of creating a module like this came about from Protect and Save the Children, Malaysia whose worksheets and teaching resources were used to formulate Arpan’s own training manual for Personal Safety Education.

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