Panaji: Goa is witnessing an alarming rise in crimes against children, especially child sexual abuse, and institutions must move beyond symbolic gestures and implement effective child protection practices and policies, said Peter Borges, Chairperson, Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPR).
With a focus on sensitising teachers and parents on the safe and unsafe touch that can help curb such heinous incidents, a programme was recently conducted by Arpan at four schools — GPS Gajanan Khandiwada, Curchorem; Parshuram Memorial Government High School, Tiswadi; GPS Khadpabandh, Ponda; and Triumph High School, Porvorim.
The NGO, Arpan, has been providing comprehensive training to teachers to build a safety network around children and teaching them about safe and unsafe touches, and its dedicated efforts have been instrumental in increasing children’s knowledge on unsafe touches and help seeking behaviour.
Prevention of child sexual abuse needs to be at the cornerstone of efforts towards curbing sexual abuse of children. The first step towards prevention efforts depends on the empowerment of individuals and professionals to safeguard children from any harm.
The NGO’s main focus is to inspire teachers and parents across various districts to provide children with Personal Safety Education (PSE). This proactive strategy, aims to reduce the risk factors associated with CSA and strengthen the protective factors for children.
Arpan’s initiatives have already reached many children and adults across various cities in India, as well as across Goa. A noticeable impact can be witnessed, giving youngsters more knowledge, skills, and self-assurance to disclose abuse. The programme’s holistic approach is demonstrated by its emphasis on providing teachers, social workers, mental health experts, and government duty bearers with the tools they need to respond to CSA.
Endorsing these efforts, Borges, said, “The state has witnessed growing crimes against children, especially child sexual abuse in recent times. Every child deserves to be safe and all of us have the shared responsibility of a child’s protection and safety from unsafe situations and people. Many children suffer silently from the trauma of it.
Institutions must move beyond symbolic gestures and implement effective child protection practices and policies. That would be a more meaningful way to honour our children under our care and protection”.
Arpan emphasises the significance of creating a safe environment for children.
Arpan’s PSE Programme empowers children to identify safe and unsafe touch and seek help when needed. The programme conducted in schools, communities, and institutions for children aged four to 15, is a comprehensive model that aims to reduce the risk factors associated with CSA and strengthen the protective factors for children.
Formal training is provided to teachers and parents to ensure that they in turn educate children on how to protect themselves.
The capacity-building initiatives have successfully trained more than 2,45,349 professionals, benefitting over 2.2 million children and adults in 2023.
These programs are designed to equip teachers, mental health professionals, social workers, and government officials with the essential knowledge and skills to facilitate Personal Safety Education and effectively address cases of child sexual assault. Notably, a significant number of children who disclose abuse for the first time receive therapeutic support, leading to healing and recovery.
Arpan’s unwavering dedication to teacher and parent training ensures that they reach out to every child with the knowledge and resources they need to be safe from sexual abuse. The participation of teachers and children in this critical project is invaluable, serving as a beacon of hope for the children of India’s future.
Furthermore, Arpan actively engages in policy advocacy, collaborating with government entities to integrate their Personal Safety Education into national and state-level courses. This pioneering work ensures that child protection is not just a conversation but a concrete part of educational and policy frameworks.
Arpan has remained resolute on highlighting this year’s theme – #ItsOkayToSayNo. The range of activities conducted in Goa this year encompassed 1) A wall painting event to spread the message ‘it’s okay to say no’. 2) A street-play or role-play to initiate conversations on creating a culture of saying ‘No’. 3) A poster-making competition in schools where children could draw/paint messages related to personal safety and assertive refusal. 4) A poetry-writing competition where young writers could creatively share messages on how to say ‘No’ assertively.
Pooja Taparia, Founder and CEO, Arpan says, “It is important that we respect and follow our cultures. However, some cultural norms can be counterproductive to children’s rights to safety. While we teach children to respect elders, we should also empower them to say ‘NO’ if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any situation. During the Child Safety Week held in November, Arpan highlighted the need to address this cultural norm that very often becomes the reason why children don’t say NO or tell anyone about being sexually abused.”