Protecting Children and Childhood

 

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Before starting, I do feel duty bound to caution that the content of this TEDx presentation is disturbing, challenging and for some people might link to strong and powerful memories.

(We need to allow for the sound quality on this video in order to understand these critical issues)

I know this will be the reality for some readers because the issues discussed have actually impacted such vast numbers of people. I consider myself very fortunate never to have been a victim. However, over the years I’ve had so many girlfriends, other friends and people close to me who have opened up and shared about the experiences of their childhood. Every story, every retelling of experiences is etched on my mind as something I’ll never forget. I am talking about incest and the sexual exploitation of children.

This has become more talked about in Western countries over the last twenty years or so. However, it’s still a massively difficult thing to talk about in conservative countries or cultures. Worse, in many countries, as I’ve experienced in my years working in K-12 education,  when a child speaks up there are not just simply the issues of whether or not the child is believed (that happens everywhere). There’s the additional factor that, whether the child is believed or not, even if there is irrefutable evidence, the honour of the family is seen as so important that the child may often be forced in to silence, making an already horrendous situation even worse.

Bringing cases to light and resolving them is made at least a little easier in the West by strong protocols and laws that, for example, make it legally enforceable that if a teacher suspects a child is the subject of abuse they are duty bound to bring their suspicions forward for proper investigation.  Too often in more conservative countries even where a teacher has suspicions or evidence it’s made very difficult for them to bring that evidence forward without risk to themselves, the child or the Institution.

Against this background I have enormous admiration for Ms Supreet Dhimon for her bold courage to bring the matters to light through her TED X talk at an event in Indore, India. In fact, even her strength and fortitude to carry out the research in the first place to attempt to understand the problems and issues at a deeper level.

If I take issue with her on one thing it is her description of this as “India’s Dirty Little Secret.” The reality is it’s the dirty little secret of pretty much every society and country in the world. The evidence and the impact are enormous and horrendous. The vast majority of victims suffer in silence, carrying the scars, physical and mental in to their adult lives.

The home and the family should be the place where any growing child feels at their safest. The problems are vast and the solutions complex. There’s a need for both micro and macro approaches in every country. The micro approaches are about how individual cases are dealt with, how victims are protected and treated, how they are questioned, how they can assured of the physical and mental support for as long as its needed. The micro level is also about how families are supported when cases arise and how the perpetrators are dealt with.

At the macro level there is a need for education and awareness building, education programmes that ensure victims do not believe they are obliged to suffer in silence. The overall perception of adults about children is a part of the issues. In a country like India it’s important to make clear that this is not somehow an issue of poor families, uneducated or rural communities. I remember once reading a commentary that purported to put it down to poor people living in close proximity with a lack of privacy. The perpetrators and victims cut across all levels of education, social status, rural and urban, rich as well as poor. I’ve also been aware of cases in wealthy families where the separation of the extended family through a large rambling house actually contributed to the opportunity for the victim to be isolated and abused.

In the Twenty First Century we owe our children so much better. There needs to be a major and significant energy and drive from all parts of the society to bring such issues out in to the open, to address the educational needs, to ensure that the legal frameworks work to protect victims and deal appropriately with the guilty. The apparatus of support, understanding, care and respect must be in place consistently, so that victims can have the chance to heal and move on with their lives.

 

 

Machiavelli

Machiavelli

Few figures in history have got a harsher rap than Mr Niccolo Machiavelli. In today’s language we use his name as a pejorative label for all the worst characteristics we see in leaders.

However, I believe he’s been harshly judged, especially when one considers the historical context of the time when he was writing. This was a man who understood that when you are in a position of power, or aspire to power (even if with the best of intentions), you’re going to catch dirt and cannot naively sit back and believe that the rest of the world will benignly orient itself around your goals.

The following is one of my favourite quotes from Machiavelli. Reading it I’m reminded so frequently of the benchmarks I always sought to apply when there were failures or mistakes in a team i was leading. What type of mistake was it? Was it a first, or was there a pattern? The last line is also a valuable reminder to me that I had better not ever be tempted to settle for self-pity or acceptance of status quo. It’s my life and my duty to do bold things with it. A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.

I also believe that as educators we have to ensure that students spend time immersed in thoughtful contemplation on such writings, exploring their applicability in their own lives.  Only through the exploration of such ideas can they develop the inner compass that will equip them to thrive in a world that changes ever more rapidly.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger
(it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.
Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength
to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Niccolo Machiavelli
16th Century Philosopher

 

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