An extremely disturbing news story has left me jolted and unsettled all evening. A friend's son, all of four or five years old, was sexually abused by an older boy, all of eleven or twelve years old. This happened in the secure confines of an apartment block where the local children played freely every evening. The parents let their children be on their own as there was a sense of security that no outsiders or strangers would be allowed in without being verified. But then, to discover that another child, only twice your own child's age, could be a predator leaves one beyond numb.
Though I was going to write about something else this week, when this shocking incident was shared, I decided that this week the 'Talking Point' had to be the safety of our children.
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the UK charity specialising in child protection, the definition for child abuse is 'when a child is intentionally harmed by an adult or another child - it can be over a period of time but can also be a one-off action. It can be physical, sexual or emotional and it can happen in person or online.'
Each aspect of child abuse is further listed and detailed:
* Bullying and cyber bullying * Child sexual exploitation * Child trafficking * Criminal exploitation and gangs * Domestic abuse * Emotional abuse * Female genital mutilation * Grooming * Neglect * Non-recent abuse * Online abuse * Physical abuse * Sexual abuse
Despite this guideline definition, there isn't a clear legal definition of 'child abuse'. There are laws and mechanism in the UK to protect children and adolescents under the age of 18 years.
Many children went back to school last week and quite a few will do so this week. Happy, smiling faces, we see them off with a satisfaction that they are in a happy, safe and friendly place.
However, it is possible though that these very safe havens become hotbeds of predatory action. I remember once, having picked Nainika up from her school in Isleworth, west London, we were waiting for the bus when I noticed a middle-aged man trying to talk to a young school girl. She looked visibly uncomfortable so a couple of other mothers and I hovered around her until her bus arrived. I asked the young girl if she knew the man. She shook her head and we realised that he was a regular troublemaker, trying to befriend young girls. Most young people do not realise that this warm looking, friendly stranger could actually be trying to groom them.
I am sure many of us come across incidents and situations indicating signs of abuse in children. What does one do in these scenarios?
According to citizensadvice.org.uk, if you're concerned that a child is being abused, you can contact:
* the local authority child protection team - even outside normal office hours * the police - call 999 in an emergency or otherwise 101 * the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). This is the UK's national police agency for dealing with child protection, particularly online abuse. If you're worried about someone's behaviour towards a child online, you can report this online at www.ceop.police.uk * the NSPCC * other agencies which come into contact with children, for example, the child's school, GP or youth worker * health services * probation services * the local youth offending team * in England, CAFCASS (Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service) * a specialist organisation like Stop it Now.
If you're worried about a child, you don't have to wait until you are certain that they are being abused. You can report your concerns anonymously and they will be listened to and assessed. Action will be taken if the child is considered at risk of harm.
The Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) publishes policies and procedures for child protection in their area. It is a multi-agency body set up in every local authority whose role is to:
* coordinate what is done by everyone on the LSCB to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the area; and * make sure that each organisation acts effectively when they are doing this.
Finding out your child has been abused is the most heart breaking and traumatising situation to be in. As well as taking direct action to protect your children, it is extremely important to get appropriate support for your wellbeing and of course your child and their siblings. This becomes particularly important if the abuser is a member of your own family.
In the case of my friend's son, where the abuser is another child, one is tempted to punish and outcast the child demonstrating predatory behaviour. Though it is important to understand that such behaviour is a learnt behaviour and it is possible that the child has himself been abused and that's why is doing it to other children. It is also possible that the child is exposed to abuse that they are emulating and inflicting on younger children around them. In such a situation, it is extremely important to identify, with professional help, what exactly the root cause of this behaviour is so that this may be addressed.
For children with a history of abuse, it is very difficult to deal with their behaviour, which often can turn hostile and unpredictable. They may be suffering from flashbacks. In such a situation, local authorities may be able to provide specialist support, financial help and counselling services. Both the local and health authorities have a legal duty to provide services for the families of children in need, including families where the children are experiencing trauma following abuse.
You may want legal advice about what steps to take as a result of the abuse, for example stopping your child's contact with the person who is abusing them. In this case, contact a specialist solicitor. There is also legal aid available to support families in need.
If you notice abuse and remain silent, you might be adding to their misery. The tendency may be to jump in and take direct action. One must understand that abuse is a serious issue and must always be dealt professionally.
Safeguarding our children is our shared responsibility and it is important to give them normal, happy childhood, and physically and emotionally healthy years to grow up. They are the present and our future.
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for 'iGlobal', she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.