“We don’t send our daughter to school. It’s not safe.”
This is the line parents kept repeating to me 6 years ago. I was in a village in rural Uttarakhand in India to talk to parents about educating their daughters. My work setting up schools for girls in the area had taken me to many villages with low enrolment of girls in primary school. But I had never been to a place where the entire village took such a strong stance against educating their daughters. Hours later when I questioned one set of parents about the reason for the entire village not sending their girls to school, I learnt that a 6 year old girl from the village had been sexually abused. Fearing for the safety of their daughters, all the girls in the area had been forced to drop out of school by their parents.
My experience in Uttarakhand truly made me realise the importance of child safety and the lasting consequences of abuse.
The importance of building child safety awareness became more stark once I started having conversations with close friends and learned of how many had suffered abuse as children. Through these conversations I learned of the personal toll this abuse had taken on the relationships and growth of those closest to me. Most now channel their work to promoting awareness about child safety and preventing child abuse.
The one thing I learned from hearing the fears of those parents, and the experiences of friends; is that the problem of child abuse persists across divisions of class, caste, region and cultural differences. And the only way of tackling the issue of abuse is to spread the awareness of child safety and teach young children that they have autonomy over their bodies.
I was fortunate to connect with Deepa Kumar, the founder of How To Tell Your Child. How To Tell Your Child is an online platform which works on issues of child health and safety across the globe. Deepa’s conviction got me on board the How To Tell Your Child team and over the past year we have been working on building child safety awareness in schools and organisations in over 70 countries. It’s been an extremely gratifying process to learn the impact of our work from as far off as Mexico, to Nigeria, and Vietnam. As the program director for How To Tell Your Child, I look forward to creating more opportunities to work with parents and educators across the globe; and to protect children from abuse.