BENGALURU: There are some weeks I don’t want to write this column. This is one of those weeks.
As grim news is splashed across our front pages, floods our social media timelines and catalyses WhatsApp groups into overdrive, I am torn about what to write. On the one hand, what can I say that can even begins to make sense of a senseless loss? On the other hand, how can I overlook these events and write a blythe column on 21st century parenting conundrums?
Over the weekend, friends spoke of their fears about sending their children to school. One friend messaged to say that some people are talking about homeschooling. Another asked what she could do to not think about the incident. She said she was muting her WhatsApp groups because she couldn’t bear to read any more articles or see any more pictures or watch any more videos.
This morning, as I walked my boys to the bus stop, I found myself asking my younger son questions about who accompanied him to the bathroom in school, who else used the bathroom and if there were any grown ups in the bathroom when he used it. I realised that I had never thought about these things before. My usual questions to the boys are “Did you eat all your lunch?” “Do you have any homework?” “Are there any notes in your diary?” “Did you have fun?”
For some reason, parents have always believed that their children are safest at home and at school. Yet one report on the Save the Children website stated that 94.8% of cases saw children raped by someone they knew, not strangers. Neighbours and family members rank highly on the list of offenders. So our children are not safe at home or at school. Then where are they safe?
At my place of work, lunch time conversation tilted to the case. People asked if there was a national sex offenders list. And we spoke feebly about police verifications and how they didn’t work. It struck me how little I know about the laws that govern the safety of our children. While I have heard the word POSCO and know that it stands for The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, I know little more than that. If we are to protect our children, we must first equip ourselves. We must know what laws are in place to protect our children. We must know what laws our schools and institutions must abide by and what safety measures they are legally required to have. And we must work with our schools proactively, all year round, every year. Not just as a knee jerk reaction when things go wrong.
I am at a loss as to what more to say to my children. We speak of good touch and bad touch, but how do we teach our young ones to defend themselves beyond that? Again and again, I find myself without an answer. Perhaps the only thing we can do is to keep talking to them and asking them questions. Not just the academics bit or the extra curricular bit or the food bit. They may answer. They may not. We can only keep asking.