by Dr. Susan Mathew
CHANDIVALI-MUMBAI, FEBRUARY 21, 2015: The UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), a National Crime Agency Command and the British Council jointly organized a three day training in `Safeguarding Children' from February 16-18, 2015 at the Nahar International School, Chandivali, Mumbai. The programme had a participation of about 75 representatives working directly with the children like the counsellors, social workers, teachers, therapists, NGO personnel, CWC members and other educational professionals. Eustace Fernandes of Shelter Don Bosco, Vatsala Prasad of Don Bosco Balprafulta and Susan Mathew of Don Bosco Research Centre attended the training.
The programme began with a key note address by Ms. Sharon Memis, Director West India, British Council. In her address she emphasised that UK considered it as a huge responsibility to safeguard children from all forms of abuses and it was important that both UK and India shared their professional experiences on violence against children and joined hands for a common cause to protect the rights of the children.
Two official representatives from Delhi crime agency were also present at the occasion and they felt that the staggering online child sexual abuse cases was posing severe threat to children as cyber crime had no boundaries. Mr. Pravinkumar Patil, DCP, Crime Branch made a brief presentation on `Reporting Cases of Child Sexual Exploitation' in India. "As per the latest figures available, 65% of child sexual offenders were neighbours while 32% offences happened at homes." said Mr. Patil. He also summarised the POCSO Act, 2012 and urged the audience to seek legal assistance and the existing services like Helpline, Alert Citizen Group, Police stations and CWC to bring sex offenders to the book. "Many sex offenders went scot-free due to lack of reporting and it was important that the reporting mechanisms were strengthened", he added.
`Sexual Violence against Children in India' was discussed by Ms. Vidya Reddy of NGO Tulir, based in Chennai. Quoting the National Crime Record Bureau, she mentioned that 42% of India's population was constituted by children who were at a high risk of sexual violence. There was a large gap between `figures recorded' and those were `actually being reported' and also a high correlation between watching child sexual images and committing child sexual offences. Session on `Online Child Sex Offenders' and `Transnational Child Sex Offenders' were intensely dealt by Nicci Hawkins, Mark Barnet and Eva Bari of the CEOP.
Each session unfolded the gravity of `sexualisation of children encouraging paedophilic sexual desires in them. "One of the most dangerous techniques used by the online sex offenders was `grooming', a process of manipulation by which the offender gains the trust of the child through chatting, flattery, intimacy building, sexual gaming, bribing, gifting, and sexting (sending sex images and selfies). Grooming gradually advances to the level of `silencing' and `desensitisation' of the child and the child would be eventually isolated to yield to the offenders' sexual demands at a private space in the real world. Once the child had fallen prey to the offender's grooming, what followed was the real victimisation of the child through threat, blackmailing with pornographic images and videos."
He continued, "The impact on the child could be so severe and traumatising that the child start feeling betrayed, stigmatised and indulge in self-blame resulting in depression, withdrawal, substance addiction, nightmares and suicides. Due to the availability, accessibility and affordability of high tech internet services and web applications (You tube, WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Twitter etc..) the cyber crimes on child sexual abuse have been rapidly shooting up. In the last 2 years, 424 children as young as 8 years had become victims of online black mailing in UK. Since India is the 2nd largest internet user, there is a greater risk for online child sexual abuse. The most vulnerable children were those who are lonely, neglected, emotionally abused, addicted to net, having low self-esteem and depressed. Some of the protective mechanisms were (a) discuss the concept of `stranger danger' with children (b) children not to disclose personal information (c) children Inform trusted people about the problem in the beginning."
According to the CEOP team, one of the greatest challenges of counsellors/teachers or other stakeholders in dealing with victims of child sexual abuse was children's reluctance to `disclosure'. Disclosure happened only when the child felt the interviewer could be trusted and that could take a long time. Disclosure could be partial, indirect or accidental. Some of the reasons for non-disclosure were lack of understanding of grooming, fear of offender, impact on family and above all children fear that they won't be believed.
In order to ensure an early disclosure, it was important that the interviewer displayed patience, ability to listen without interruption and confidentiality. Long term consideration of disclosure included therapeutic needs and ongoing support. Along with the theoretical inputs, the programme saw short videos, documentaries, being played out as part of each session that not only caught the eyeball attention of the participants but also conveyed a strong message of the rising vulnerability and danger lurking in the world of internet for children.
The concluding sessions were devoted to the presentations of NGOs such as the Childline and Prerana who have been in the frontline for the protection of children from sexual offences. Mr. Nishit Kumar of Childline briefed the audience about the service of Childline and creation of the POCSO Act (after the episode on child sexual abuse featured in Satyamevajayate which gave the impetus and the support from Government and NCPCR). Documentary film by Childline `Komal', India's first film on child sexual abuse had gained world- wide popularity and has been shown in all possible languages to send out the message on child sexual abuse.
He also pointed out that due to the influx of mobile phones and disappearing PCOs in cities, street children were unable to get across to Childline, which he felt was a major concern. Ms. Uma Subramanian of Prerana explained to the group the initiative `Arambh' which included numerous infographics and downloads on CSA and also about Prerana's objective to remain connected to various other NGOs in this pursuit. Marc Barnet of CEOP talked about the service of CEOP's education programme called `Think You Know' involved in spreading awareness about the online sexual abuse and professional help to safeguard online assaults.
During the valedictory session, the principal of the Nahar International School, Ms. Vandana Arora reminded the participants about `knowledge transfer' which they gained through training to at least 20 people whom they associate closely in their professional field. With well worked out course content, extremely engaging sessions by the resource persons, case studies, group work and role plays, the training programme evoked active participation and stimulating discussions and the participants felt the training was highly enriching, informative and useful in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.