Published: 27th April 2020
This is NGO Sakshi’s plan to curb the rising child sexual abuse complaints caused by the lockdown
This New Delhi-based NGO had started the #StopChildSexualAbuse initiative offline as a part of The Rakshin Project. Now, with the spurt in child abuse complaints, they are working even more harder
It's not just the cases of domestic violence that are going up due to the lockdown. Childline India, a helpline for children in distress started by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, received more than 92,000 SOS calls for protection against abuse within 11 days of the lockdown starting.
But you know this already.
What you probably don't know is that Sakshi, a rights-based NGO that has been working to empower women and children, is quietly trying to make a difference. But it had started this journey a long time back, what is new is that they are taking it online now so that they can continue making a difference when it is most needed.
Smita Bharti at a workshop | (Pic: Sakshi)
In the late 90s, through the PIL Sakshi vs Union of India, the NGO asked the judiciary for an expanded expansion of the definition of sexual assault, addressed many issues about child sexual abuse and child-friendly mechanism. Many of those recommendations were accepted in the 172nd Law Reform and the definitions have even found their way into the POCSO Act that we have now. This has been the most notable contribution by Sakshi in this sphere and their latest project, The Rakshin Project also comes very close. Under this pan-India project, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India directed this New Delhi-based NGO to facilitate sessions for NSS (National Service Scheme initiated by the government back in 1969 to spark social consciousness in the minds of youngsters) units in 41,000 colleges across India in 2018.
"One out of two people are sexual abuse survivors, this means 50 per cent of us have been abused. There is a lot of stigma and taboo around it and we tend to learn to cope with it. But what we help children with through these pro-bono workshops is to come to terms with it and let go off the baggage through creative expression. Also, we teach them how to identify it when it's happening around them," says Smita Bharti, Executive Director, Sakshi and adds, "The baggage, which is present at a subliminal level comes into their conscious mind and with the various tools we equip them with, they learn to process the pain." They also teach them about legal rights, the steps one has to take to file a case, connect them to lawyers and most importantly, they teach them about the power of saying 'no'. "You will be surprised to know how many children are shocked when they hear that they could have just said no or pushed the abusers away instead of feeling guilty. They realise that if they had all this information before, things would have turned out differently for them," says the recipient of the Karmaveer Puraskaar for social change.
Workshop at Gandhigram College, Maharashtra before the lockdown | (Pic: Sakshi)
When they took it online
These children, who are message receivers then become message carriers and educate the people around them, more specifically, just two people. And that’s how a ripple effect is created. Before the lockdown was enforced, they had set the target of reaching out to 100 colleges this year and they reached out to about 46 in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat and other states, with about 75 children in one session. Totally, they have impacted 4,000 children this year alone. After the lockdown, they took The Rakshin Project online and started campaigns like #MakeHomeASafeSpace.
The online sessions are much more interactive and a lot more about addressing the doubts. So a two-hour session easily stretches into a five-hour one. As per the college's designated platform, whether it's WhatsApp or Zoom, they use the prescribed medium to connect with them. In these online sessions, they are stressing more and more on consent, using the right language to say no, calling abusive behaviour out, deciding personal boundaries and much more. "We get many questions like 'This is happening with my cousin, what do I do?', 'How should I talk to my mother about it? and so on," she shares.
Creative expression by a participant | (Pic: Sakshi)
Bharti herself is a master playwright and director and is well-versed with the power of creative expression. She has worked on over 20 plays, video installations and what not. And she herself is in awe of how the children chose to express themselves and their pain. They take to Insta stories, TikTok and express themselves to art, posters, poetry and more. And this way, spread the word around even more. They are positive that this will have a multiplier effect and the word will spread more and more.
Some campaign posters
For more on them, check out sakshi.org.in