Abuse Posters Help Indian Schoolgirls Speak Up

Monday, May 16, 2011

Many of the girls who see posters about child sexual abuse inside their school buildings work in domestic-household jobs after school. The posters, teachers say, are spurring conversations about troubling encounters.

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, India (WOMENSENEWS)--The sketches are simply done and the messages are written in Tamil in some schools; English in others.

"No one can touch me and ask me to keep it a secret."

"If someone touches me and asks me to keep it a secret I must tell a grown up."

"My body belongs to me."

Schools and civic leaders in here don't shy away from warnings about child sex abuse. Many schools conduct workshops and on Nov. 19, the International Day for Prevention of Child Sex Abuse, the city organizes awareness rallies and media programs.

These posters, however, are the first time government schools have opened their doors to permanent wall hangings about child sexual abuse that are meant for the children to see and talk about.

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They began going up in February and can now be found in the heavily trafficked areas--entrances and front offices--of 281 government-run schools that either charge no tuition or very little and cater to lower-income families.

The posters also send a warning to faculty members, since schools are considered a place where children risk abusive contact. Last year a nongovernmental organization was reported to have teachers who abused students in one school it ran. Students had complained that sexually abusive teachers threatened them with failing grades unless they kept quiet.

The poster campaign is a joint effort of the state government, an advocacy group called Tulir and UNICEF.

Tulir--its full name is the Center for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse--conducts training sessions and awareness campaigns on child sexual abuse. During one such session, Tulir organizers said they kept hearing complaints of child sex abuse in schools and that schools should be turned into places of safety and awareness. This led them to think about how to make sure that children were getting the message on a daily basis rather than just in a workshop session.

Lois J. Engelbrecht, a researcher on child sexual abuse and the founder of the Centre for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse in the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, says the sexual abuse rate in India is far higher than in any other country. One study, conducted in 2007 by the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development, indicated that just over 50 percent of children reported having faced sexual abuse. It looked at almost 15,000 children and young adults across 13 states in India.

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Absolutely fantastic news. I was brought up in Asia in an era where child abuse was seen as a 'domestic' incident and, therefore, beyond the realm of criminality. I have blogged about Indian women facing domestic abuse at