One touch can trap her into a cage. Another can give her wings.

When we go to a school, we aim to touch the lives of as many children as possible in a positive manner and make them spread their wings out. But sometimes, we come across rude awakenings that challenge our composure. We witnessed one such moment at a session recently where we taught children how to identify and manage stress. One may ask what stress will a standard five child have? Is stress not an adult thing?

But children today have a large number of reasons to be stressed out. Unknowingly, their very own protective ecosystem creates this stress and that is the biggest irony of all. Parents pressurize their children to score good marks, beat the neighbour’s son’s grades, attend class after class and win all competitions one can participate in. Teachers push children to blindly pursue grades so that they can boast about their performances. In the midst of all this, children lose valuable play time, creative expression and the pleasures of childhood. These are reasons we were expecting to unearth in that workshop, until we met Rani* and Supraja* (names changed).

As part of the activity, children were completing a structure worksheet based on inputs from facilitators. These two girls identified that the reason for their stress was a recent incident where one of their teachers misbehaved with them. Although the incident happened several weeks ago, the scars of the incident were vividly registered in their young minds. Without a proper channel to let out their confusions and fears about this incident so far, they had kept quiet and when a favourable environment presented itself, they chose to come out with it.

It is appalling that in spite of numerous campaigns and awareness drives about good touch and bad touch, children are still becoming victims of such atrocities. Girl children are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Our counselors spent enough time with the girls to ensure that they realized that it was not their fault and that it is possible to bury those scars in the past and be childlike and joyful once again, only more wiser this time.

Debates are still going on as to when to introduce sex education to children and in what form. Policies can wait perhaps till the debates drag on to a conclusion but the bodies of children and the intentions of perverts do not wait. Studies show that in most cases of child abuse, the abuser is someone that the child knows personally. The need of the hour is to make children understand their bodies clearly and differentiate between good touch and bad touch. They must know whom to trust and whom not to. In case of a violation of their sanctity, they should know how to react immediately to protect themselves and also later to confide in their trusted people to come out of the trauma.

Thanks to Rani and Supraja, that session gave an opportunity for us to instil this message to children.

A bad touch can trap a child forever into a shell. But a good touch of warmth and reassurance can help the child rediscover the wings and spread them out.