India is home to more than 375 million children and over half of them are victims of sexual abuse. Here is a parent’s guide to preventing child sexual abuse.

An intelligent 8 year-old complained to her parents that tuition teacher uncle was touching her in a wrong way and did “dirty things” to her. Her mother yelled at her and slapped her for being a bad girl. Today the child is undergoing treatment with me for depression.

Yes, child sexual abuse is a dark reality that routinely inflicts our daily lives, though it’s a truth we often choose to ignore or think it could “never happen to my child”

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) refers to a wide variety of acts which all amount to forced sexual relations between an adult and a child.

Unfortunately such a broad definition misleads most people into assuming that sexual abuse only involves intercourse.

CSA can be as subtle as kissing, fondling, sexually suggestive remarks or forcing the child to undress. Oral sex, voyeurism or making the child view pornography are also forms of sexual abuse.

Parents may ignore these acts or turn a blind eye…but this is sexual abuse all the same.

A National Study on CSA in 2007 has some eye-opening facts to report:

  • 69% of Indian children are victims of sexual, physical, mental or emotional abuse
  • Child sexual abuse in India begins as early as age five, ratchets up dramatically during pre-pubescence and peaks at 12 to 16 years.
  • 71 per cent of sexual assault cases in India go unreported.
  • In over 89% of cases family members perpetrate such crimes

This then makes it imperative for parents to wake up and start watching out for their young ones.

Red Alerts: 5 warning signs that could signal sexual abuse:

  1. Unusual interest in sex: Sudden questions related to sex, reading magazines or books with sexual content or spending a lot of time on the internet surfing porn sites could also be a sign.
  2. Physical signs: Unexplained bruises or scarring on exposed parts of the body, difficulty sitting, walking or running are definite indications of pain in the genital area.  A recurrent urinary infection especially with young girls is another warning bell. Sudden self-consciousness about changing clothes in front of you or bed-wetting is another red alert.
  3. Mood swings: Unexplained crying spells, diminishing appetite, nightmares and uncharacteristic rebellion are usual indicators. Other signs include lack of interest in school, friends and sudden drop in academic performance.
  4. Fear/avoidance: Skittishness and especially avoiding one particular person is one of the most potent indicators of child sexual abuse. Refusal to go out alone or to be left alone without parents is another sign.
  5. Computer use: Watch if your child spends large amounts of time online- especially at night, turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.

How can parents protect their child?

Here are a few simple ways to set up a safe environment for your child.

Basic Sex Education: From a young age educate your child  avoiding baby talk and using words as close to the real term as possible (bum or bottom instead of “chi-chi”, for example). Telling kids “The areas of the body covered by a bathing suit are private” is an ideal way to begin sex education. Most importantly, teach your child (even boys) the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch”.

Be informed: You are the child’s first line of defense, so don’t turn away from learning about sexual abuse. Educate yourself on the subject. Be actively involved in your child’s life. Who are his friends? Who are his teachers? Learn about their next planned excursion. This way you make a child a difficult target.

Be alert: Don’t expect that there will be obvious signs if your child is being abused. Know your child so well that any unusual behavior is easy to spot. Check the history of websites your child is visiting online. Follow up if there are porn sites or child pornography related material in the cache.

Storytelling, drawings and playing with dolls are ways for parents to keep a check if their child is facing any kind of abuse. Using lots of black or red while drawing, aggressive or sexual content in stories or pointing to genitals of dolls are usual indicators of some disturbance.

Act responsibly: If your child shows fear of a particular adult, always follow up. Question the child gently and keep a watch on interactions between the child and adult. If your child reports of being touched wrongly by a relative or friend, never ignore the plea. Tackle the issue delicately. Drop hints about taking action if the same continues.

Never alone: Over 80% of child sexual abuse happens in single adult-single child situations. Avoid leaving a young child with a single adult for long periods of time. This includes tuition teachers, house-help, relatives and neighbors. Ideally, let the child be supervised by 2 or 3 adults at the same time.

An unfortunate fact is that the Indian legal system is poorly equipped to deal with child sexual abuse – it makes no distinction between rape and sexual abuse by a relative or family member.

Perhaps our best chance then at preventing sexual abuse with children is to be alert parents and responsible adults.

CHILDLINE is India’s first 24-hour phone outreach service for children in need.

Any child/concerned can call CHILDLINE through its toll free number 1098 and access its services.

Within minutes of receiving a call the team rushes to the spot and attends to the crisis at hand.

This post originally appeared in the RobinAge.