Stop child abuse | Sunday Observer

Stop child abuse

30 August, 2020

 Child abuse is serious problem in the present era. We see our electronic and print media organisations giving more publicity to child abuse daily. This media reportage may not be ethical or could be psychologically damaging to the victim. The other day we heard the sad news about a child who was killed after serious abuse. It was reported by all media and there was much media hype. However, these reports have not shown us any positive approaches to stop child abuse. The Youth Observer initiated an online discussion on this topic with primary and secondary school teacher, Oshani Abeyratne who is domiciled in Australia. This is the first discussion in the series.

Q: We hear about child abuse incidents regularly. Could you please explain what child abuse is?
 A: Abuse isn’t always physical or sexual. The World Health Organization (2006), states that child abuse is “All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”   
Q: But our culture never believed that people close to the family can become abusers. What are your views? 
 A: Often in the Sinhalese culture abuse has a stigma around it and isn’t discussed, however, given that “The majority of persons who experienced childhood abuse knew the perpetrator and experienced multiple incidents of abuse… and the average age of persons who experienced sexual abuse was 8.8 years,” (ABS, 2019) it is vital that we create an open space in which we discuss abuse and how to prevent it happening.   
Q: How can we stop this serious problem? 
 A: WE have to start at home. We cannot wait for teachers to teach our children Protective Behaviours. We need to start from when our children are young. The most important lessons come from the parents and therefore it starts with you! So, how do we start? It is important that we start with the fact that our bodies are our OWN. Yes, a mother has to wash a child’s body when they are young, one might even say that is our duty – to bathe our child when they have soiled themselves and I agree. However, when that child is old enough to say no we must and should listen. This teaches our children at a very young age that they are in control of their bodies. Some might laugh and say that as mothers we need to change them immediately and and upto a certain extent I also agree, however there are ways to do it. Try speaking to your child, explaining that they have a dirty bottom and they need to be changed and often most children at some point will agree. The main point is to reiterate that it is their body, they can say no. This is crucial as it paves the way to teach our small ones that they are in charge of their bodies, no one can touch them if they don’t want them to.   
Q: Do you think that children should not even kiss their family members ? 
A:  With my own children I have always taught them that if they don’t want to hug a family member or kiss them goodbye that is fine. Again, it is THEIR body. Some days they want to hug their grandparents and other days they don’t. That is okay. No one forces an adult to kiss another adult if they don’t want to, so why do we feel the need to force our children to? Often this leads to a mistrust between child and adult and I for one would hope that my children would feel safe enough to know that if they didn’t want to kiss their grandmother goodbye one a particular day, that they didn’t have to. When we were small, the notion was there that we would be considered rude and unpleasant If we didn’t do as we were told and hug and kiss family members goodbye at the end of a function. However, it is more important to teach our children that some days if we don’t feel safe or if our bodies don’t want to then that is okay. The more we spread this message and the more people that teach their children this, the less it becomes a stigma and a common misconception that it is rude if they don’t.   
Q: What is the Australian experience about this matter? 
 A: Teaching our children that their bodies belong to them is the first step of many to help our small children stay safe against abuse. In Australia teachers from Kindy/Pre-Primary, will therefore teach children at the age of four years some form of Protective Behaviorus. This will be done t for all primary and secondary school children; however, it is pivotal that those discussions take place first and foremost at home.   
 The first step is teaching our children that we own our own bodies, we have the right to say no and we should have people we can talk to if something goes wrong. Over the next few weeks we will discuss feelings, the importance of using correct anatomical names, family networks and the importance of safe and unsafe secrets.  
Online discussion
Kasun Irugalbandara