Launched last year by the Rotaract Club of Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College and Rotaract Club of Bangalore Southwest, D 3190, the objective of PANTS is to create awareness among government school children on various forms of child abuse (physical, verbal or visual). “This year alone we came across 12 cases of child abuse from just one of the two schools we have been visiting regularly,” says Saniya, president of the club. All the 12 children have now been sent for counselling and “in most of the cases the parents weren’t even aware that the child was being abused. So, we requested the principal to talk to the parents and guided them through the process for counselling,” she adds.
Last year the club covered 10 government schools to create awareness on the concept of safe and unsafe touch, giving them necessary knowledge and education, which could help them in their personal safety from such abuse at home, school or outside.
The initiative was dubbed PANTS: P – Privates are privates, A – Always remember your body belongs to you, N – No means no, T – Talk about secrets that upset you, S – Speak up,” explains the president “because child sexual abuse is a topic difficult for children to understand. We wanted a catchy name and one where the children can remember the rules we talked about on their fingertips.”
The club created a 10-minute video on child abuse which they play in the classroom and by way of cartoon characters “we explain to the children how to defend themselves, and teach them how to say ‘No.’” The club members then chat up, one-on-one, with every child in the class. This helps them build a relationship based on comfort and trust with every child, and we assure them that the conversations will remain confidential,”
Next, in case of child abuse “we have to tell the child that it is okay to talk about the abuser because in 90 percent of the cases the abuser is a family member or a friend that the family trusts.” Another important thing she points out is that there should be regular communication between the parents and their children. “Unfortunately, in India parents hesitate to talk about sensitive topics, and in some cases, they refuse to believe what the child is saying.” she adds.
Talking about creating awareness on the helpline numbers for children she says, “Everybody should know 1098 is the toll-free helpline number for children in distress and was launched in 1996. But not many are aware so we make it a point to tell the teachers in the classroom about it.”
The club has decided to work with private schools too and is looking for partner Rotaract clubs to take this project to different cities in the country. “We have a #Metoo campaign for women victims of sexual abuse. But in the case of child abuse we are doing very little. With the power of Rotaract we can take this project to different parts of the country because this issue can only be addressed through awareness,” says Saniya.