Published: 28th July 2020
Protecting yourself is a right: This NGO is using colouring books to teach children to stave off abuse during lockdown
Nirmal Initiative is making Child Protection Kits for children to learn about sexual abuse, caste discrimination, COVID protection
The World Health Organisation has had its hands full over the last couple of months but it's not just with Corona. Recently, the organisation announced that countries are reporting a 60 percent increase in domestic abuse and violence. India’s helplines have also been ringing off the hook. Now in an environment where women’s lives are at stake, one can’t expect that children’s lives are safeguarded either. When Swetha Goswami also began to hear of crimes against children going up in the villages she was working in, she knew something needed to be done. Swetha who hails from Vrindavan is a PhD student in JNU from the Philosophy department and the founder of Nirmal Initiative.
Swetha’s Nirmal Initiative has been working with schools in different states and is involved in creating a curriculum for students that will include awareness of sexual abuse, child safety, equality, discrimination and other similar social issues that the children are prone to. When the lockdown was announced, Swetha’s team decided to distribute sanitary napkins to girls as young as 12 to the women in their early 20s in villages in UP. Through Asha workers and other helpers, the Initiative was able to ensure scores of women in the villages did not have to panic about not being able to access the sanitary napkins. But during this time, Swetha also began to hear of a increase in cases of child abuse. “Child sexual abuse, pushing children into cheap labour, child marriages especially for girls - there are many things that the children are vulnerable to during this time,” she said.
School shelters these students from the world’s evil (even though schools themselves are sometimes unsafe), in some way, the child stays connected with a larger world through a school. So with it being out of the picture and with uncertainty burdening the atmosphere, in many instances families can be forced to send the child to work or to get them married. Staying home also means that predators can have easier access. “It was important for the children to continue to have some sort of connection with their schools. That way the parents feel hopeful of the school remaining an essential part of the children’s life and the child feels connected to their school,” Swetha explained.
Swetha’s team brings out colouring books for the children and uses them as a method to teach children about sexual abuse. So in this situation, the Initiative decided to design a colouring book to teach them about similar issues they could be prone during the lockdown. “During this time, a lot of caste-based bullying is likely to happen. So we wanted to teach the child about that. Both for the children who could be victims and the bullies as well. Through these images we hope the children feel a sense of belonging and don’t feel lost during this time,” she explained. But this is not just it, the team also came up with the colouring books to impart knowledge on COVID and what precautions children can take to stay safe.
The team has created 1000 ‘Child Protection Kits’, the kit includes - a colouring book called ‘Har Baccha Ko Hai Suraksha Ka Adhikar’(Every child has the right to protect themselves), COVID-19 prevention colouring sheets, inclusive space colouring sheets, wax crayon packets, a bar of soap and vegetable seeds. But what this writer particularly found interesting was the letter that the initiative drops into all these kits, the letter though a common one, speaks to every child - about Corona, about schools closing, the uncertainty in the air, about missing friends and teachers. Among many other things, the team writes that the children should plant the seeds and as they wait for school to reopen, they should continue to tend to the plant. “When schools reopen again, we will laugh, play and study together again. And we can also eat the vegetables that you’ve managed to grow during this time, all of us, together again,” they team writes signing off as - With love from, Your School.
The team through the help of Asha workers, teachers and local Panchayat leaders are finding ways to distribute the books to the children - either by asking children to come one by one to the school or by visiting their homes and dropping off the kits.