By Mathu H. Liyanage –
It has been the practice of parents in the past to warn children to be careful of strangers and to avoid or run away from them as far as possible. Unfortunately, in a fast changing world, things have changed so swiftly and traumatically for the worse where sexual abuse, violence and crime against children are concerned.
The moral standards of the society in which kids are born and brought up have eroded to such an extent that most of the child abusers and predators now come mostly from fairly educated class of persons with a standing and authority in the areas in which children live. The predators have invariably mastered the skills and techniques in befriending kids through the media, TVs, computers and internet by which they have easy access to similar occurrences in other countries. They snap up clues and methods of enticing children to meet their uncontrolled sexual urges and demands.
It is high time that parents did away with the “stranger danger” message as it makes no sense in the present environment though every stranger to children such as the police or responsible members of the community may not represent danger. Parents should explain to their children the dangers of meeting or speaking to an unknown person as, older children especially teenagers, are vulnerable to sex predators.
It is really essential that younger children who cannot understand the ramifications should always be accompanied by either parent or a responsible person elected by one of them. Equally, it is important for parents to learn about modern child safety strategies.
The “stranger danger” message may still be relevant for older children, but a younger one, when told about a stranger, will invariably think of a scary person or a strange looking person like a “gorabilla” as most of our parents whispered to us when they tried to put us to sleep at night.
This leaves children exposed to the normal-looking, but now dangerous predators are those who look normal and who pose the real risk when children play outdoors, in parks and even in their gardens unattended by an adult.
Children are familiar with scary characters on TVs, in books and in films but they do not have any resemblance to sexual predators. Young children normally judge people on appearance, and if someone looks nice, kind and offer love or a chocolate to them, they will trust such persons and pin their faith in them.
Child abusers seldom go to extremes and injure or abduct a child but they will inappropriately touch, fondle or kiss the child.
It will be extremely useful and protective for appropriate authorities to prepare child safety material and make them available for parents at primary schools, children’s hospitals, local surgeries where children go for treatment.
More could be achieved if teachers explain the dangers to children periodically at school assemblies or meetings. The police could also play a significant role by arranging to visit schools and educate children about the dangers involved in meeting or speaking to unknown persons who confront them, and whom they could contact or go to seek assistance if they feel vulnerable or threatened.
The following protective strategies and practices may be useful to combat the danger of child abuse and reduce its incidence:
Older children should be trained to ask themselves the questions listed below
when they are approached by an unknown person:
(1). do I know him?
(2). do I feel comfortable with him?
(3). if I go with him, will my parents know where I am?
If the answer is in the negative, children should alert an adult known to them.
They should also be taught the following skills and practices:
(1). to be mindful of meeting the unknown and be on alert
(2). not to walk alone and be in a group or close to one
(3). to tell someone of their plans and not to change them
(4). if scared to walk, to go to the nearest home but not to go inside.
(5). if an unknown person tries to grab, to scream loudly to draw the attention of others around the place
It is great and commendable that the government has since launched a campaign in partnership with the UNICEF for protection of children – Violence Free Society for Children – for training of personnel engaged in protection and welfare of children both in the public and private sectors, their families, and schools. The main objective will be to identify and follow-up cases of violence, equip children with the skills needed to protect themselves, raise community awareness, and impress on the government to provide adequate resources and funds for the projects.
*Dr. Mathu H. Liyanage PhD (Ireland), Master of Letters (Australia), BA (Hons) (London)