Protecting our children from abuse – Part 1

In this blog, we are going to cover a non-dental issue, because it is one that is important for us all to be aware of.

It is an issue which people do not like to discuss or even think about, but child abuse is alarmingly common in India and around the world.  As adults, we have a responsibility to protect not just our own, but all children from abuse.

What is child abuse?
Child abuse is the term used when an adult, or another child, harms a young person under the age of 18. There are many types of abuse –  physical, emotional, sexual, neglect and specific offences such as child trafficking.

In this article we will concentrate on child sexual abuse (CSA), but many of the principles can also be used to protect children from other forms of abuse.

How common is child sexual abuse in India?
Children from all social classes and backgrounds are susceptible to abuse. It is impossible to know the true incidence of CSA as the vast majority of those abused do not tell anyone. Social stigma in Indian society often prevents people from coming out in the open and talking about abuse.

A goverment study published in 2007 (, found that 53% of the children surveyed reported having faced sexual abuse, 21% serious sexual abuse. In the majority of cases the abuser was someone known to the child, or in a position of trust and responsibilty. Most of those abused had not reported it to anyone. With statistics like these, it is not an issue that we can afford to ignore.

How can I keep my child safe?
Parenting is challenging, and the issues are different for babies and small children than for older children who are starting to become independent. Childhood should be a carefree time and we don’t want to worry our children, but we need to give them some guidelines on keeping safe.

We tend to be concerned about our children when they are out and about but, as the majority of abusers are known to the child, we also need to consider keeping our children safe at home, school, when visiting relatives and friends or participating in other activities or using the internet. In a future article, we will look at safety issues for various situations.

Good Communication

Good communication with your child is the key, both to listen to their concerns and so that they will listen to you when you give advice and rules on keeping safe.

As the quote says, this needs to start when your child is young. Listening to your child, at a time when you are not rushed or distracted is important. Put down your phone, and make eye contact with your child.

Find the best times to talk and listen, maybe at bath-time or bedtime, going to and from school, while in the car or walking together. If your child wants to talk when you are busy, assure them that you will make time as soon as possible. Ask your child about their feelings and emotional well-being. The art of listening builds trust. Your child may also have other adults, such as grandparents, who they trust and can talk to.

As difficult as it may seem, it is better to give your child some guidelines on keeping safe, rather than waiting until until you have a concern. This should be done in a way that is appropriate for your child’s age and understanding. A good tip is not to treat it like a lecture, it’s much better to find easy ways to have comfortable chats, little and often. Adding simple conversations into your day or routine about staying safe will help prevent your child from feeling like it’s a big deal, unusual or weird.

The UK charity NSPCC has developed The Underwear, or P.A.N.T.S rule as a simple way of talking to your child without using scary words or mentioning sex. You can click on the above link for details, but in summary:-

Privates parts are private
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help

In India, Enfold Proactive Health Trust, based in Bangalore, are involved in education and training to protect children from sexual abuse.

In the next blog, we will discuss signs that may raise concern and what to do if you suspect abuse or a child tells you they have been abused.

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