Tuesday 24 April 2018

How do Indian parents talk to their children about rape?

Outrage has grown in India after two incidents where children were tortured, raped and murdered.

People across the country came out in protest, with some of them even taking their children to demonstrations.

With so much news around child rape and murder and the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, how do Indian parents try to explain these events to their young children?

"When you're educating a child, it's not a one-time affair," Dr Samir Parikh, a Delhi-based child psychologist, told the BBC.

"Incidents in the news should be used as teaching moments based on the child's age and cognitive abilities."

Dr Parikh added that Indian parents have started having these conversations with their children more openly than before but it's still not as widespread as it should be.

"Education surely makes a difference in terms of parents' comfort and belief in talking about these things," he said.

The BBC's Nikita Mandhani gathered a range of voices from different parts of India to highlight varying opinions on what and how much parents choose to tell their children about rape and sexual abuse.

"She wants to know if the whole world is like this"
My 11-year-old daughter is an avid reader and is interested in political and current affairs. Initially, I didn't want her to be exposed to a lot of news and conversations surrounding rape and sexual assault. But it's become inevitable.

When she was five, I explained to her that she needs to be aware and alert about what is happening to her and around her. Then about two years ago, she read about "rape" in a book and asked me what it meant.

I didn't go into any graphic details but explained that it meant somebody was abusing someone else or violating the privacy of their body in an unacceptable way.

My daughter and her friends are appalled and shattered about what happened to the eight-year-old girl in Kashmir. Sometimes, she asks me if the world out there is like this or whether this is a one-off incident.

She gets scared, but she is also at that age in her life when she wants to push her boundaries for independence. So, it's tough to explain why I want someone to escort her wherever she goes or why I want her to dress more conservatively in northern India.

Mona Desai - mother to an 11-year-old daughter in the western city of Mumbai

"He needs to be aware that he will play a role in bringing change"
I have spoken to my older son about incidents of rape and sexual assault a few times. He reads the news sometimes so I choose to frame conversations on consent and violence around incidents in the media.

I have also always discussed women's issues with him. I think as an upper class Hindu male he needs to be aware of these concerns and realise he plays a role in bringing about change.

I think it's important for my sons to be aware of rape culture. Sexual violence is one of the biggest fears of women around them, and thus ultimately impacts everybody's lives and behaviour. Sexist jokes, phrases and thoughts are called out in our household and examined for how damaging they can be.

I don't shield my sons from the news. However, I do let them bring these topics up for discussion rather than imposing these conversations on them.

Maybe my children don't always understand the full meaning of what I'm discussing but it's enough for me that they know that to their mother such behaviour is not acceptable.

Sunayana Roy, mother of two sons aged 11 and 3 in the southern city of Bangalore

"How do I teach her about rape without making her cynical?"
Talking to my daughter about issues surrounding rape and sexual abuse is a struggle. I want her to be able to trust people - to be friends with men and fall in love.

But at the same time I am concerned about her security and safety. I don't mind if she comes home late or wears clothes of her choice. But I still ask her to return before a particular time and suggest appropriate outfits.

This is my dilemma. I want her to understand the reality without becoming cynical.

Instances of rapes and violence upset her and she asks, 'Are all men like that?' I explain that a small section of society is like that. It is a struggle to answer these questions when I want her to believe that the world is beautiful.

Parul - mother to a 14-year-old in Chandigarh in northern Punjab state

"Empowering them to say stop"
From the time my children were about four or five years old, we have been teaching them about concepts like "good touch" and "bad touch" and how to respect their own and other people's bodies.

We have taught them that there are some body parts that are private and no one should touch, apart from their parents when they are giving them a bath, and perhaps a doctor - but in front of their parents.

We have also told them that if someone does something that they are uncomfortable with they should never be afraid to say "no." Also, they can always come to us or another figure of authority that they can trust - that they should never feel ashamed.

Even when they play with each other- and you know how boys like to roughhouse - we have a strict rule that when someone says "I don't like it", the game has to end. Basically all of this is to empower them to say "stop".

Having said that however, I have actually restricted newspaper access to my children. Both my husband and I are quite particular about what kind of media they have access to, and how age-appropriate the content they are exposed to is.

Akhila Prabhakar - mother to two sons, aged 10 and 8 in the western city of Mumbai

"She makes up stories about being touched"
I haven't talked to my 7-year-old daughter about rape but I started telling her about "good touch" and "bad touch" about two years ago.

Since then, every time we talk about it, she tells me a new story about someone who has "touched her inappropriately". Initially I was frantic, but then I realised that none of that had actually happened to her and young children can be really good storytellers!

My daughter starts correlating and putting herself in situations we talk about. It becomes difficult for me as a mother sometimes because I don't know if she is processing these conversations in the right way.

It horrifies me to see girls as old as my daughter becoming victims of such heinous crimes, but I'm not sure how to approach the subject of rape with my daughter. I fear that if I tell her about rape, she'll start connecting to that as well.

Sunanda Parashar, mother of two daughters aged 7 and 2 in India's capital Delhi

"I took my teenage son to his first anti-rape protest"
We have been having conversations with our son about the idea of consent, appropriate behaviour and violence, and the role gender plays in it for quite a few years now.

It's important for children to be steadfast in their beliefs. Everyone has inputs coming in from different directions.

Lines are very blurred now. It's very possible that young and immature minds do not understand consent and hormones take over.

So, these discussions have become a crucial aspect of our existence. It's not just enough to tell our children to do or not do a thing. We must also give them the courage to ensure that their immediate environment is not subject to such incidents.

This last Sunday, we took our son to his first anti-rape protest. We believe it's important for him to see he's not alone and is part of a much larger group of people who think like him and believe in similar values.

Arunava Sinha - father to a 15-year-old son in India's capital Delhi

(Source: BBC)

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