Child sexual abuse is rarely discussed openly in India. Lack of proper education among adults, queasiness around explaining sexuality related matters to children and the culture of children being expected to respect adult members of family without question, often put children in an abuse situation which they may not be able to report. In this post, we look at a few documentary films that inform and also urge both adults and children to break the silence around child abuse.
Chuppi Todo (Break the Silence) a film by documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kumar Singh, took shape in 2011 when Sanjay, in an effort to educate his six-year-old daughter and children like her about abuse, decided to make a film for children on how to recognize abuse, raise their voices against it and report it to a responsible adult. The film was supported by Plan India, an NGO working with children. Since then, Sanjay has created many more films and TV spots with the same theme, as awareness building tools against abuse.
The film, which is the first in the series and available on YouTube, is largely enacted through mime with a voice-over. The narrative follows two children Rahul and Sania who are close friends and enjoy reading and playing together. One day while playing hide-and-seek in a neighbor's house, Rahul is urged by his neighbor to hide behind him and is then covered with the shawl that the man was wearing and pulled onto his lap. A frightened Rahul runs away and later relates his ordeal to Sania who informs him that once a similar incident had happened to her but that her mother had taught her to say NO. She takes a shaken and embarrassed Rahul to her mother, reassuring him that she would be the right person to help him. Sania's mother calms the children and then educates them about safe and unsafe touch, to say NO to the latter and run away. The children are also taught how they should not keep these things a secret (even if the abuser entreats/ threatens them to) and report it to their mothers or other responsible adults. The film also teaches children that even if they are not able to clearly identify the nature of a touch, if it makes them uncomfortable, it is best to refuse and report it.
The film asks children not to stay silent, not to keep secrets from their mothers and other responsible adults but to speak up about abuse. But why don't children report abuse? What holds them back? In her blog post on Women’ Web, blogger Divorceddoodler explains some of the reasons why children do not confide in their caregivers or other responsible adults, namely that children lack the proper words to describe what has happened, they are afraid of being disbelieved, they feel it's somehow their fault or that they may have been threatened into silence.
Author-blogger Sweta Vikram, writing on Halabol points out some of the cultural factors that could ‘paralyze’ a child at a ‘subconscious level’ thereby bringing down the shutters and ensuring silence. She writes:
“Respect your elders” or “Don't question what the older folks say” or “Elders are never wrong,” is what we are brought up to believe. Children are loved and pampered, not respected as individuals. Their opinions and experiences either hold no value or are labeled as “cute” or “imaginative.” And for those of us who are or were rebellious morons and seek answers to everything illogical even as a kid, we are chastised or labeled as “disrespectful.” How many children or even adults do you think can be okay with feeling like an outcaste?
We are also brainwashed to keep our dirty laundry at home. So, even when the crime of sexual violence is and was happening, many children don't speak up against it because of fear or shock or shame or confidence or lack of support. Or if they were being heard, the reaction might mean: handle matters quietly.
Earlier, in 2010, another documentary film titled Speak Up! It's Not Your Fault!, produced by the students of SCM Sophia (Sophia Institute of Social Communications Media, Mumbai) and directed by Dipika Lal, who is now a media professional, tackled the issue of child abuse in India. Using visual analogy from the story of Little Red Riding Hood and having two adults who had faced abuse as a child (one of them being Dipika herself) open up about their experience on camera, the director not only brought out what children feel and go through but also what issues they may face when some of them do open up about it. The film is currently hosted at Culture Unplugged and has been used here with permission.
The film also shows that even when children say No, or when they are uncomfortable in a situation, they can be ‘groomed‘ into giving in to the abuser's wishes. Grooming, according to Vidya Reddy, Director of Tulir – an organization working on the prevention and healing of child sexual abuse in India, is a very critical area for adults to understand, in order to be able to create the proper safeguards that are essential to providing a safe and protective environment for children.
In a telephonic interview, Vidya strongly emphasized that unless adult caregivers, to whom we are asking children to report abuse, are themselves educated and informed in a manner that allows them to be prepared and confident to handle these situations, asking children to report abuse will not go a long way to combat the problem. For it is only when adults are educated and informed about the context and dynamics of abuse, can they not only create a protective and safe space for children to speak up about abuse without fear, but can also take proper preventive steps to minimize opportunities for an abuser to get to a child. According to Vidya
Adults around a child should feel prepared and confident to address child sexual abuse and the only way to do it is to give them information that does not overwhelm them and put the shutters down. Rather, it will make them feel capable of addressing it and capable of preventing it. The dynamics of abuse need to be understood by the adults…For example, unless you understand grooming, you will never understand why a child won’t disclose about abuse and that is the crux of it, you know.
Of course, since the time that the film was made (2010), India has progressed when it comes to framing separate laws to tackle child abuse. In 2012, the government of India passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act [pdf], which UNICEF India has also highlighted in their ongoing #ENDviolence campaign.
A more recent film, 2nd Saturday, produced by RM films, directed by Rumi Goswami and uploaded YouTube by PocketFilms, is a bold take on child abuse in that it talks directly to the abuser. A man who is abusive towards a minor girl who is the household help, is rudely shocked when his own child asks him why he does not love and caress her the way he does the maid.
There have been a few other films too, and very recently, on 20th September 2013, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) released a documentary film titled Thank You Ma to generate greater awareness about child abuse and the steps needed to protect children from it.
Films, videos, TV spots – in other words, the audiovisual medium is a powerful tool to generate awareness and educate both adults and children about abuse, it's dynamics and possible actions which can help minimize opportunities for abuse or it's recurrence. It's good to see activists, government agencies, filmmakers and media professionals using the audiovisual medium in an impactful manner to break the silence and taboo around child abuse. We need many more such films to shake us out of our complacency and ignorance, educate, inform and help us tackle child abuse in the way it should be.
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