June 13, 2013

Talking to kids about sexual safety: Childline India’s school programme

Jack Kerouac – “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

Finding the right words is a struggle. There are manifestos attached to it. There are mottoes. How to encompass concepts of safety and abuse then within 12 point serif letters? How to talk to children? This is what Childline India grappled with in their initiative for Mumbai schools. The programme, which runs in 180 schools across the city, teaches kids about basic concepts related to sexual safety.

When they started devising the programme in 2011, they found that when it comes to sexuality education, “there is a tremendous communication gap between teachers and children, parents and children,” says Nishit Kumar of Childline India. “Parents expect that school will deliver it. Schools shied away from it because they thought that parents will be against it. There is a huge communication gap, huge vocabulary gap.”

To tackle the problem of vocabulary, they turned to the oldest things, the forms that came first — nursery rhymes, fairy tales, stories. The programme uses stories and visual aids to talk to kids in standards 2 to 6 about staying safe. It avoids words like abuse or sex. It works with concepts like safe and unsafe touch, personal safety rules, the concept of trusting someone that they confide in, the concept of recognising actions that make them feel uncomfortable.

Here is an example of one of their sessions:

Session for 2nd, 3rd and 4th Std. (6-8 yr olds)
Time: 30 Minutes

Here are some dos
1. Speak clearly and slowly
2. Ask permission from the children at the beginning of the class to talk to them. It is their right to participation.
3. Tell them clearly how much time you will take, and what are the activities you will cover. (30 mins, story telling and some questions)
4. You may ask a disruptive child if he/she wishes to stand outside the classroom and listen
5. At the end of the session thank the children for listening

Here are some don’ts
1. Never use the term “child sexual abuse”
2. Never use violence (verbal or physical) or force to get the children to listen or “behave”
3. If you feel a child asks a question you cannot answer, do not make up something or lie. Ask the child to speak to his/her Trusted Adult.
4. Do not react to every response, some children might laugh or giggle when you discuss private parts.

Process: Begin with introducing yourself and the purpose of your visit

The Story

Flip to Chart 1


It was a warm sunny afternoon, Bunty was walking back home from school. He had something to talk about but felt scared to talk to his mother or father about it. A friend of his had once told him, that there is a wise and fearsome tiger, Sherkhan living in Rani Bagh Zoo. So today on his way back from school, Bunty went to Rani Bagh Zoo, and found the cage where Sherkhan lived. When he got there the large tiger was fast asleep. He knocked on the cage bars. Sherkhan roared “Who dares to wake me??”

Bunty was frightened but he replied “Hello Mr Sherkhan, My name is Bunty. I have something to talk about but I’m scared.”

Sherkhan opened his eyes, and roared again. “I am inside a cage and you are outside. There is no reason to be scared. Quickly tell me what you have to say.”

Bunty tried to be brave, and said “Well a couple of days ago an aunty I had never met before came to visit from out of town. When she walked into the house, she had a whole bunch of presents with her just for me. A toy train, a stuffed bear, action figures, and a cricket ball and bat, all for me! I was very happy. All evening, aunty and I played with the toys, making up games and stories and it was a lot of fun.

Flip to Chart 2


But then when aunty was leaving she gave me a big hug, and while she was hugging me she put her hand inside my clothes. But I thought maybe it was by mistake.”

“But then the next time aunty came, again she brought me many presents, again we played, but this time aunty didn’t leave until after it was time for me to go to bed. She told my parents that she would help me get ready for bed, so they could finish cleaning up after dinner. She came with me to the bedroom, and helped me take off my clothes. I felt very embarrassed being naked in front of aunty. I put on my pyjamas but still hadn’t put on my t-shirt. Aunty did not give me my t-shirt, instead she came close and hugged me. I did not like aunty hugging me when I wasn’t wearing my t-shirt.”

Sherkhan was listening to all this.

Bunty said, “A few days later she came home again. My parents had to go for a community meeting and Aunty had told them she would watch me while they were away. When my parents left, Aunty asked me if I wanted to play a game, she said that it was a secret game. I wanted to know what the game was so I decided to play. Aunty said that to play I would have to take my clothes off. I did not want to do that. But Aunty said if I didn’t then we could no longer play and she would no longer bring me presents. Aunty said the game was; when she called out a word I would have to touch myself at that place. At first aunty said words like nose, ears, belly button, and we laughed when we had to touch our tongues. But then aunty stopped playing. She came close to me. She hugged me tightly again and touched my private parts. She said “Don’t worry this is part of the game”. I didn’t like it at all, I was very uncomfortable and I started crying. After a while Aunty stopped touching me and told me to go to bed. I put my clothes back on and went into my room. But I did not sleep until my parents came home and Aunty left.”

Flip to Chart 3

bunty_english_3Sherkhan got up and came closer to Bunty, right to the edge of the cage. Bunty got scared and moved a few steps away from the cage. Sherkhan asked “How did you feel when your aunty touched you?”

Bunty thought for a second and said, “Well, I like when aunty hugs me and plays with me because I like aunty. But she also makes me very uncomfortable and uneasy. I don’t know how I should feel it is very confusing.”

Flip to Chart 4


“Well Bunty, do not worry. Many children get confused when someone they like does something they don’t like. The important thing is to listen to that little voice inside you. When something bad is happening, your inner voice will set off alarm bells and that is why you feel uneasy and uncomfortable or icky. The voice is warning you, and you should listen to it.”

“But hugging is not wrong?”

“You are right. For example: when your mom or dad, who loves you, hugs you it feels good and makes you happy, this is good touch. But when someone touches you in a way that makes you feel confused or uncomfortable that is not right.”

“But then why is it confusing?”

“Well Bunty because aunty was doing something good and bad at the same time. Her hugging was a good thing but her touching you under your clothes and in your private parts was wrong. Aunty should not have touched you in places that are private.”

“But Mum used to touch me in my private parts while giving me a bath.”

Flip to Chart 5

bunty_english_5“Yes, but she did that because she wanted to keep you clean and healthy. Sometimes your doctor also touches your private parts, but only when mummy or daddy are there and only to keep you healthy. Now that you are older you have learnt how to keep yourself clean and give yourself a bath. As you get older you don’t need help from your mummy.” Sherkhan smiled at Bunty, and Bunty felt the tiger was not as scary as he looked. He stepped closer to the cage.

“I didn’t know adults can do bad things. I thought it was my fault”

“No Bunty, when adults do bad things, it is never your fault. Adults are not supposed to touch you in your private body parts or make you touch them or make you show your private parts. This is unsafe touch. They are not supposed to show you any images or movies that are not meant for children and make you do things that are confusing and uncomfortable. These are unsafe actions. But if they do things like this, it is never your fault.”

Bunty felt better, he went and sat down on the edge of the cage near Mr Sherkhan.

“Bunty are you still scared of me?”

“No sir, I think you a very nice tiger.”

“Good. You have been brave and have come and sit next to me. The same way you have to be brave and tell someone you trust about your “touching problem”, about what aunty did.”

Flip to Chart 6

bunty_english_6“But I don’t want to tell. Everyone will think I am bad. And they won’t believe me.”

“It’s ok if they don’t believe you. You have to keep telling someone until they do believe you. Tell many people you trust, until someone helps you. It is important to feel safe, you deserve it. Also it is important to remember that if anyone does the bad things I described you must Shout NO! And run away to a safe place. And then you must tell an adult you Trust. Remember you did not do anything wrong, it’s not your fault.”

“Ok, Mr Sherkhan. Thank you for talking with me. Thank you for not being scary. I will be brave and tell my mom as soon as I get home.”


The story is followed by a set of questions and an exercise which asks each child to identify someone they trust and would be able to tell if something happened. What I found interesting about this one were the gender roles, the importance of the confidante and the way the child’s guilt has been handled.  I’m going to try and reproduce some of their other material here as well in subsequent posts. Until then, if you have material you want to share or if you have comments, do chime in.

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