|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 55, Tuesday February 17, 2009|
I wasn't bothered by you, you didn't do me any harm. You were no different than the one that was next to you or the rest of the bus. But you drew my attention through your toes. In between death and sleep when I felt your feet touching my arms.
I first thought it was just the handle of my seat but then I felt the human-ness of the touch. I looked over and it was your foot. You had stuck that through the gap and rested it on my seat handle. So now it was me, covered with a shawl, my handbag and your one intrusive foot, all next to each other.
I felt mad. I turned around and saw that you were pretending to be asleep while your toes looked for a part of me to touch. I didn't know what to say. I wanted to tell the bus driver or the conductor but the road was foggy and I didn't want them to get excited and lose concentration over some woman feeling harassed. So I thought about it; waited for you to move your feet. I moved myself away from the handle and your feet, feeling furious.
Half an hour later your feet still remained, you knew that I was aware, you still didn't move.
I finally turned and with a stern voice said, “shunchen, ey je apni, please pa ta shoran, ga e lagche,” (“You listening, yes you, move your feet, it's touching me.”) And you looked irritated as if I had asked you to move a mountain. You did move your feet. Everyone enjoyed our interaction, except for me.
And now a week later, I just want to ask you something, though I know you are not reading this. Does it make you feel good to harass women through your hands and feet? Aren't you the one who complains that city people don't come to villages? City people don't want to work with villagers? Aren't you the one, who, if I met in some other setting would have been nice to me and helped me in some way; if you heard I was going to your village perhaps or the village next to yours?
So why do you become so different when night falls and darkness surrounds you and me, and your sick desires get the best of you. Why?
I want to see your village, the dirt that you carry in your feet isn't filthy; it's the dirt you carry in your mind. Wash it away brother, cough loudly and spit it out. We will travel together again to your village and the one next to you. On a bus when darkness won't bring undesired touch, foggy roads won't lead to deaths, and we will all be healed.
How do you talk about the birds and the bees with your child? When should a child know about sexual education? How should parents tackle puberty?
Actually, we as adults are more sensitive to this matter than they are. Watch your own reaction and the underlying beliefs (rational or irrational) that give rise to that reaction. Nowadays a lot of children's programs, movies and cartoons are making this task easier for the parent. Peers and older siblings are also there to share this duty! It is better to present it as a mere fact of life without unnecessarily demonising any character.
In my opinion, it is never too early to educate children about their private parts and how to protect it. It is also never too early to educate a child about his/her rights over the body parts and the do's and don'ts around it. Only thing the parent has to be cautious about is that the message delivered is age appropriate.
It should be said in a way that the child can grasp the idea (please be mindful that the conceptual thought process is underdeveloped in children and the abstracts used to deliver the message should match the developmental stage of the child) without going into minute details. All children should learn the difference between good touch and bad touch, what parts of the body can be touched, which part is just for private use and who else can know about it in case of an emergency (e.g. mother or primary caregiver), etc.
Paedophiles and child abusers prey on children's innocence and they tend to bribe/threat/manipulate the child to keep it a secret. An overwhelming majority of female substance abusing patients have a history of childhood sexual abuse. Although lesser in number, male patients are not exempted either. A large portion of the child molesters is someone from the extended or immediate family or someone in the close circle (e.g. domestic help, driver, baby sitter etc.) of the child.
Biggest damage an abuse can cause is by silencing the voice of the victim. These children learn to carry these “dirty little secrets” and suffer from all kinds of mental and emotional problems as a result of someone else's wrongdoing. Children should be encouraged to disclose any inappropriate behaviour (e.g. touch, indecent exposure etc.) that they come across to the parent/guardian and parents need to take it seriously. This will also help to identify the perpetrator and protect other children from being victimised.
A formal knowledge on reproductive biology is usually offered at school in grade 5, 6 or 7. They learn about it as they study human body, developmental stages, reproductive system etc. Parents find it easier then to interact with the child and discuss about it more openly to answer any related questions. Initially children might feel embarrassed and ashamed.
However, in a friendly supportive environment most children take it normally as they learn the truth about it and also learn to respect others' privacy as well. The goal is to equip the child to deal with puberty and sexuality in a better way and overcome all kind of superstition, stigma and myths linked to it.
It is not fair if a girl has to experience her first period without any prior knowledge of it. This experience can be quite traumatic for a young girl; she might be frightened to death or ashamed of her whole existence or might take it as a divine punishment or mortified by the thought of contracting a bad disease etc. Letting her know that this is normal and expected is so liberating that no preadolescent girl should be deprived of this information.
Sex education is a very sensitive issue and can generate a lot of controversy. Necessary groundwork is important to avoid resistance, non-cooperation or an unwanted outcome. Research findings show children benefit immensely if they learn the safety rules around strangers and are reminded about it from time to time. Child trafficking, child pornography is the most heinous crime of modern world. Sex education of adolescent children can also actually help to bring down the teen pregnancy rate in a society.
Underprivileged children without safe homes or proper guardians (e.g. slum dwellers, domestic help, street children etc.) are the most vulnerable section of the society. Peer education (well informed older children educating the younger ones) sometimes is more helpful in disseminating this knowledge among these children. Role play, psychodrama etc. can also be used to teach these children about these basic life skills. Knowledge is power, the sooner they learn the sooner they get empowered. Different social agencies and law enforcement agencies have to work collaboratively to protect the children from sex offenders. A society cannot thrive without addressing these issues at its root and holding people responsible for their choice of action. I'm sure child educationists working in Bangladesh will be able to provide you more information on it.
Dear Dr. Khan,
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