In a dingy classroom, Urvi Wani, a 24-year-old lawyer, is trying get the children of Class II to pay attention to her story.
Urvi, a volunteer of the Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Awareness programme launched by the Childline India Foundation, is conducting these storytelling sessions in several schools across Mumbai. M&B attends one such session and takes note of this crucial and significant initiative to spread awareness on CSA…
Words Poornima Nair Iyer
Visual Akshay Kulkarni
The Jalbhai Dorabji Bharda School at Grant Road in Mumbai is not an easy place to locate, especially on a rainy day. Despite the precise directions, we have a tough time finding the building close to the railway station. After 15 minutes of dodging the rain and muddy potholes, we find the place. The first floor is where we come to a stop. From there on, the school is simply a maze. The narrow corridor leads the way to several classrooms; all the divisions seem to fit on a single floor! At one point we come to a standstill as it appears we are in the midst of an open classroom, which must have been a balcony at one time. The students curiously glance at us as we are obviously outsiders. Finally, we manage to find the volunteer Urvi, who will let us observe the storytelling session she is conducting in class II.
We follow her to class. All the desks and benches are too crammed to allow us to move freely, so we squeeze, twist and turn our way to find room. I prefer the back bench while Akshay has decided to stand by the door. The 50-odd students notice the big camera and enthusiasm runs like a ripple through the rows. Urvi, despite her delicate appearance, manages to divert their attention to the center of the classroom with her shrill voice. She has propped up a flip chart on the black board. The students are quickly drawn to it.
She begins her story of Bunty, a boy who is the same age as the students in class, she says, and who has a problem he can’t disclose to his parents or friends. He finally decides to go to a zoo where he puts his problem before the wise tiger Sher Khan. The boy doesn’t know yet but he has been abused by an aunt who gives him gifts so she can touch his private parts. Confused and agitated by what’s happening, the boy seeks Sher Khan’s advice. The tiger tells the boy that if he is brave enough to come to him, then he should be able to gather courage and tell his mother what has happened. Urvi flips the pictures while she is telling her story, each image explains Bunty’s predicament. Between the story-telling, she asks the students questions as to what Bunty must do and the students give some clever responses; it seems the message has been made very clear to them.
“Through Bunty’s story, children learn the difference between a safe touch and unsafe touch. The story is interesting and we use visual aids to keep the students engrossed. The session is an interactive one as the little ones always ask questions,” says Nishit Kumar, head of communication and strategic initiatives, Childline India Foundation. “The idea was conceived when in 2009, the high court discharged the three culprits accused in the Anchorage Shelter Case. It took us six years to gather evidence and convince the magistrate court to get a conviction. We are informed by the judge that current laws as described under Section 376 do not allow convictions related to crimes against children. So we worked on a draft law and submitted it to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) who then took up the matter with the Maharashtra government. The home minister of the state, RR Patil gave a commitment that Maharashtra would be the first state to take a tough stand against child sexual abuse,” he affirms.
The CSA Awareness programme aims at intervention, prevention and rehabilitation of victims of child sexual abuse. The aim of the workshop is to prevent kids from becoming victims of abuse and for victims to come forth and report the abuse. “Last year, we conceived, staffed and received funding to begin the programme. We did a couple of workshops where we created stories and embedded the concept of CSA within the stories. We also enlisted the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at about 160 schools. The Childline team attends to make a presentation and we address issues related to CSA, letting parents know how to react and how to talk to children. The focus of this programme is not to frighten but to sensitise children in their idiom and is designed for students in the age-group of six to 12 years,” he says.
The Childline team communicated with 1,000 schools in the state, inviting teachers to attend the four-day workshop for volunteers. In these workshops, volunteers, including teachers, parents and college students are given practical training to effectively communicate and are familiarised with the material to be used. The programme was inaugurated on February 1, 2011,and so far 26 schools have been covered. “A lot of parents volunteered to be part of the programme. We have observed that even educated parents, at times, don’t know to communicate the issue with their children. So this workshop really helps. We have received excellent response from the school children,” he affirms.
Urvi, the storyteller, was familiar with Childline before she volunteered for this programme. “I had done a project with them when I was with Rotary International Youth programme (ROTARACT). I have always been interested in such issues, so I signed up as a volunteer. After the four -ay workshop, we were to give a moral commitment of covering as many schools as we wished. I committed to 10 schools and so far, I have finished six,” she says. Urvi recalls her first day with alacrity. “My first day as a storyteller was long and noisy. But you get used to it. As I’m not a teacher, the children respond to me easily; they are more forthcoming. I would like to believe that I get through to the kids at some level. Through this session, they can absorb and use the information. I feel now that we have started off with the topic, they will think and discuss it with their parents, cousins and friends. At some level, the taboo has been broken,” she adds with hope.
To spread the message to a wider audience, Childline conducted a one-day camp at various malls to convince parents about the need and usefulness of the CSA Awareness Programme. “School principals have welcomed our volunteers to conduct these storytelling sessions. They have also told us that incidents of CSA have taken place so this programme will certainly help the students,” says Nishit. In our country, millions of children are affected daily. So this is just a small step in that direction.
“The storytelling sessions are conducted in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and English. Our posters are multi-lingual and at the end of each session, the children are given notebook labels with a box where children can put down the name of the person they trust and a sealed letter for parents informing them about the programme. Currently we are conducting the programme in Mumbai, but with additional funding and support, we hope to begin the programme in other cities. We have received approval from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to conduct the sessions at their schools as well so now we can cover 1,400 municipal schools. We know that children across the spectrum of society are getting affected so we target all kinds of schools. Presently, we are not recruiting men as volunteers because the subject is very sensitive and we prefer to avoid any complications,” he informs.
Geeta R Unnithan, the principal of Jalbhai Dorabji Bharda School, tells us how her school got involved with the programme. “One of our trustees works for CRY and during our talks, she mentioned Childline. We also had literature coming from the time we began the programme. We discussed our intent to start the programme with the parents of the students. Even though they are from the lower economic background, the parents work every day. The children are left on the roads literally; they are from the hutments near the footpath. These are places where you have drug addicts and alcoholics who engage in perverted behaviour. The parents were quite receptive about this programme because they can’t afford a maid or baby-sitter to look after their kids. The children are left to fend for themselves. They understood that through this programme something good could be imparted to their kids. They are not so progressive that they could address this issue directly with their children. So, a third party from the school is all the more welcome. This is the first day of the session and we will be repeating these in future,” she assures. That’s one small step for Childline and one giant leap for children. We salute the efforts of the foundation and hope that more parents and children are informed about child sexual abuse, so the crime can be prevented and childhood can be