I take my child to the neighbourhood park every evening. For some time now, I've been noticing a year-old girl who is escorted by a maid. After a few rounds of walking, I often see the child being handled, kissed and hugged by all the male workers in the park. Now, I have definitely not seen any sign of sexual abuse. But I cringe every time I see someone fondling this baby in ways I certainly wouldn’t want strangers to be touching my child. All the while, the maid chats nearby. Should I interfere? Should I ask for the child’s parents’ number and call and say something? Or am I being paranoid and elitist?
While we are loath to be party to turning ourselves and our children into suspicious, mistrustful and, worse, fearful beings, the answer is—yes, you must alert the girl’s parents. Many parents, especially of very young children, are either clueless about this issue or believe they need to worry about it when their children are a little older. Sadly, there is ample evidence to the contrary.
Though it is quite possible that none of the people handling this baby are perverts, it is just too iffy a situation to let be. That’s what you need to explain to the parents as well. Moreover, you can caution them that being handled by so many people exposes the baby to hygiene issues, skin and respiratory concerns. This is not being elitist, it’s being sensible. Of course, you would have to be diplomatic with the maid—and so would the parents, in their turn—and communicate your concerns in terms that she understands.
While it is unadvisable to bring up our kids in social bubbles, it seems we need to limit the physical stuff—not just with strangers, but within the extended family as well. Far too distressing statistics are pouring out about child abuse now.
Do note that many parents, even now, believe that boys are safe from abuse and that they need worry only about girls. In fact, boys are more vulnerable as they play more contact sports, horse around more and are seen as easier targets by child abusers of all hues, precisely because boys are less protected.
It is a fine line to walk, this business of ensuring appropriate physical touch with children. Many families and some communities bring up children with the constant injunction: “no horse play”, “no aang-masti”, “no hugging”. After the age of five or six, children are rarely hugged or kissed and physical shows of affection between siblings aren’t encouraged. This may have been intended to cut down chances of ‘bad touch’. However, as one 32-year-old woman (now a mother of three-year-old twins), who grew up in such an atmosphere, says, “While it protected us from abuse, it did make us extremely undemonstrative, and uncomfortable with touch… something that I have had to unlearn, as it is too cold a way to live.”So, overreaction is an issue, too.
But to come back to your question, yes, do seek out the parents and tell them—without being alarmist, but without mincing words—that their little girl needs to be watched better.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org