Life skills based education has become an important tool to raise awareness about child sexual abuse
Recent incidents of child abuse have once again triggered the debate on safety and protection of children across the country. While laws and institutional protection need to ensure safety of children at the government level, there are many fronts on which the society needs to come forward. Generating awareness, especially among children, is a matter that often comes up every time an incident of child sexual abuse is reported. Recently, there has been much talk about including components on child safety in school books.
In an interview with The News on Sunday, experts at the Idara e Taleem o Aagahi (ITA), an organisation working to promote education across the country, called on the need for formalising structures and formal educational components on child safety. Experts including Naila Irum, the life skills based education (LSBE) coordinator at ITA; Fatima Jaffar, the project coordinator for Life Skills for Kids (LSK); and Qazi Ehsan, the ITA’s focal person on the technical advisory body made by the School Education Department, Punjab to introduce reforms in curriculum for awareness and prevention of child abuse through LSBE, spoke to us on the subject.
The News on Sunday: There is a lot of talk about the need to generate awareness about child abuse. Are people still reluctant to talk about child sexual abuse?
Naila Irum: Child sexual abuse is still a taboo topic in most of Pakistan. People living in marginalised areas are not even aware about child sexual abuse and its types, mainly because of issues related to ‘honour’. They think their children will be stigmatised for life if they openly talk about it. This is where we need to increase awareness about this pressing issue.
TNS: When we talk about life skills based education (LSBE), there appears to be only a superficial understanding of what it is. So how does LSBE benefit children, especially in terms of generating awareness about sexual abuse?
NI: LSBE is not very difficult to understand. The concept is fairly nascent with no commonly accepted definition. The literature is growing in this area and with increasing incidents of child sexual abuse, people are more and more eager to know about it and how it can help protect their children.
As such LSBE has become an important tool to increase awareness about child sexual abuse. Our LSBE manual has a chapter on child protection for this purpose. The children registered in our LSBE courses are already sensitised about self-protection. They are taught how to deal with such situations, denial (how to say no) and assertiveness. This makes them empowered to take decisions in a vulnerable situation.
TNS: What kind of social pressures and challenges are there in ensuring wider implementation of LSBE given your experience with it?
NI: Idara e Taleem o Aagahi (ITA) has been working on various programs involving LSBE strands like Siyani Sahelian and Life Skills for Kids (LSK) apart from other related trainings and campaigns. Based on our experience with the implementation of such programs, the major challenge comes with the reluctance on part of communities and policy makers to include Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) unit in an LSBE manual. It is difficult to talk about safer child practices with unmarried people. Communities show concern about children getting pre-marital awareness about sexual and reproductive rights. This way we can’t caution them about child marriages and related legislation as this is widely practiced in most backward areas of the country. The LSBE manual is carefully reviewed by the government before they allow us to teach it in schools, and that too implicitly.
TNS: How receptive are parents in the process and how do you engage with those who are reluctant?
NI: Parents mostly show reluctance where they are concerned about security of children because of distant schooling and co-education. With our organisation providing transportation and ensuring free and gender segregated education, parents are quite relieved on these counts. Moreover, since girls’ education is a bigger challenge, we ensure that they will be taught by female staff only. Trust has to be built through social mobilisation.
TNS: Have you gauged the behavioural impact of LSBE on children? How do children benefit from it?
Fatima Jaffar: Life skills include various skills that help a person lead a meaningful life - they teach about group behaviour, anger management, conflict management, negotiation, decision making, problem solving techniques, life protection, health and hygiene and much more. We conduct various counselling and therapeutic sessions for this purpose which help children make life goals. Especially for victims of abuse, it helps them restore their trust and confidence.
There are scales to measure the impact of these sessions which include questions about child behavioural responses over a particular issue they are facing. Their behaviour is assessed through observation and direct flooding. This enables us to see the impact of LSBE and improvement in their behaviours.
TNS: Is there a genuine seriousness towards inclusion of LSBE components in curriculum that could educate children about their own protection? And has there been any progress on that front?
Also read: In-depth conversation about child protection
Qazi Ehsan: The inclusion of LSBE in curriculum is important to increase awareness on these issues. In this regard, the School Education Department, Punjab has made a technical advisory committee, including the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) and civil society organisations, to introduce reforms in curriculum for the awareness and prevention of child abuse through LSBE. The committee has completed the mapping process of LSBE in existing curriculum and ITA, being a part of these committees, is demanding the government to make an LSBE-inclusive curriculum at the earliest.
TNS: Beyond conceptual awareness, what other structures are needed to facilitate programs such as the LSBE on ground?
QE: Unfortunately, despite the massive significance that it carries, LSBE is taken as an extra-curricular subject. Making it a compulsory subject in formal education will be useful as only inclusiveness can help this program become a part of students’ learning, which is going to stay with them for their lives and not just for a certain academic qualification.