Draw A Line. Now.

‘Ah, but what do you have to worry about? You have two boys.’

That is how most discussions end. They start with deep concern about the little girl, a sense of despair at the helplessness of the parents, the flaws of the school system, and they end with segragation of the parents into two neat piles: ones with real reason for concern and the ones who can safely throw caution to wind since they are endowed with the abuse-proof gender.

 Various studies and surveys however point out some glaring facts:

  • A US based Research has found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. This figure was based on incidents of physical contact in US and Canada.
  • A 2007 survey in India pointed out that more than 53% of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse.
  • Sexual abuse harms boys and girls in ways that are similar and different, but equally harmful.

It is not just about girls. It is not just about sexual abuse. It is about any kind of abuse. It is about drawing a clear, sharp line. Why should a teacher get away with pulling a child’s ear, humiliating a child in the name of disciplining, discouraging a child with a blatant ‘you are no good,’ or with slap after slap to a middle-schooler who was flying a paper plane in the corridor? I increasingly find the conversations that I have with my boys disturbing. Every other day, they report about some boy or the other being either beaten up by a teacher, or hearing the choicest of words from them. What is more disturbing is that these kids do not report all this to their parents. And worse, it is not limited to a particular school – I have consistently come across incidents of abuse reported by kids from different schools and the various so-called sports academies and hobby centres.

The sad part is that the children do not protest since they take it as a part of life – they sometimes believe that they are being rightly punished, and most of the times hesitate in telling the parents. In fact, however unscientific this conclusion is, if I were to go by the anecdotes related by the boys everyday, nearly all children who do not tell the parents, do so out of fear – fear that the parents would not believe them, fear that they might even think that the child deserved it, and worse, fear of more slaps and stinging words from the parents. A sizeable chunk of parents, on the other hand, believe that rod is the only way of straightening the child, and they willingly hand the rod to the teacher. For the child it is a lose-lose situation.

 The issue of abuse is way more complicated than installing CCTV, writing assurance letters to parents, and holding occasional seminars for the teachers to promote sensitivity. As parents, we cannot be spectators. We must not entrust the schools with absolute power. Yes, schools are an important part of growth but where is the growth in hearing demeaning words or getting slapped by a maniac claiming to be a teacher?

No, I cannot change the system, or sit in the school lobby waiting to meet the principal everyday since I fear that someday it could be my son. Neither can I watch my boys sigh in relief each day they successfully avoid the land mines. But that doesn’t mean we have to be helpless. The boys and I have a sort of code in place:

1. No form of abuse if justifiable. There are no acceptable degrees – an ear tug is a as grave as slap.

2.  They have been told about the good touch and the bad touch. And I continue to discuss it with them. Stepping into teens doesn’t make them any less vulnerable.

3. Just because they are boys, doesn’t mean that it is the world’s right to be rough with them. And, no the roughness they face doesn’t necessarily equip them to deal with the harsh world later.If anything, it makes them more vulnerable.

 4. They are encouraged to discuss each and every mundane detail of their school day. That is how I know which teachers have a crazy violent streak, and which are the nice ones who truly love being where they are. And the discussion never ends in a moral lecture. Ever.

 5. I am a teacher too. So respecting teachers is a norm for them, but they also understand respect doesn’t mean absolute power and that teachers can be flawed too. So, while they are respectful, they are also aware of unacceptable behaviour, and so far have reported everything they think is worth reporting.

6. Now that they are in middle school, and they have a ‘reputation’ to protect, I do not just stomp in the school office to discuss any problem that they face. First, they are encouraged to work out a solution. Then, if the matter is more serious, we discuss possible solutions ranging from migrating out of the country (usually the first idea they come up with) to standing up for what is right. Ultimately, it is the boys’ decision to let me in. Logic: If I go and discuss something they told me confidentially, I lose trust and they shut the door on me. On the other hand, if I lead them to believe that it is the right thing to do – we all win.

This might not be a foolproof method backed by years of research, but so far it is working. We keep adding codes and modifying the older ones as we go along. As children, they know that their mum can turn into a witch if she catches them being disrespectful, they have no reason to lie to her about anything (unless it is about the extra laddoo that the younger one gulped), and she is very capable of donning a cape and confronting anyone, if their safety was at stake.

Today afternoon, the same issue cropped up again. A teacher has been losing it every other day.

‘Did you get hit too?’

‘Nope. I guess I was spared as he thinks I am a good student. ‘ My elder one clarified.

‘But he hits other boys badly?’

‘Yes. And threatens them a lot. What do you think we should do?’

‘A voice inside me is saying that since you are in good books we should let it go. But, the other voice is telling me to go, and report since it doesn’t matter who is getting hit. Point is – it is wrong to hit.’ I was genuinely confused and told him exactly what I felt. Children are more equipped to handle complex emotions than we give them the credit for.

‘I know…so which voice would you listen to?’

‘What do you think?’

‘I think the other voice is right. But what if he finds out it was me and then takes it out on me.’

‘Then I don the cape.’

Originally posted at : Mycity4kids.com

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