On Teacher’s Day, A Note of Gratitude For Teachers Who Are Fighting Child Abuse

Amnesty International India
5 September 2020 2:04 am

Teachers from the Our Safety, Our Rights campaign are going beyond their classroom duties to ensure each child is safe, even during a pandemic.

 

“Creating awareness among the children about their rights and empowering them to protect themselves from abuse and violation is our ultimate duty.  As Child Protection Ambassadors, we should intervene whenever children’s rights are violated and advocate for effective implementation of child protection policies and laws.” – Teacher Shanta Sheela

“Seeing the sad state of children is depressing. But, when I am able to understand their challenges, intervene, and be there in protecting them from abuse and exploitation, I feel a little relieved.” – Teacher Sudaroli

“The role of a teacher is to prepare children to reject what is unjust and speak up against injustice. Being a Child Protection Ambassador gives a whole-hearted satisfaction to my life.” – Teacher Bhuvana Gopalan

These are voices of a few of our teacher ambassadors who spearhead the Our Safety, Our Rights Campaign in Tamil Nadu.  As part of Amnesty International India’s human rights education program in schools, we initiated this campaign in August 2018, with the aim to help children understand and identify sexual abuse, and empower them to speak up and report the abuse. This campaign also aimed to encourage commitment from schools and state authorities towards building a safe environment for all children.

The key change-makers of this campaign are the teachers who take the message to their classrooms. In the last two years, we have had over 400 teachers, especially female teachers, from at least six states.

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Among them, some have volunteered to be ‘Ambassadors’, committed to spearheading the campaign not just in their schools, but also in their neighbourhood. Many of them have even reached out to other schools in the neighbourhood, interacted with communities and parents, trained other teachers in their districts, appealed to the authorities, and jointly contributed to developing child-friendly resources.

I am truly humbled by their commitment and passion.

Our teachers, Sudaroli and Shanta Sheela, who are part of a teacher’s network called ‘Kuzhandaikalai kondaduvom’ (Celebrate Children), took the campaign through this network in Thiruvallur and Chennai District.  Teachers in this network meet once in a month to discuss issues faced by children, explore child-friendly engagement activities beyond classrooms, share best practices, and incorporate child-centric approaches in their teachings.  The two-day training session by Sudaroli and Shanta Sheela, has motivated 20 more teachers to take up the campaign in their schools.

They did not stop there.

Sudaroli, who is an efficient orator, social analyst, and a counseller utilised every opportunity she came across to promote the mission of child safety. She conducted a session on prevention of child sexual abuse for 150 teachers in a training program organised by the Tamil Nadu Government. She has trained over 78 School Management Committee members from 13 schools.  Besides conducting regular awareness sessions with the children, she has dealt with three incidents of child sexual abuse and provided counselling and guidance to parents on reporting mechanisms.  She has further supported other teachers in reporting two other incidents of child sexual abuse.

“A continued discussion with parents and adequate training for teachers on child protection is the need of the hour,” says Sudaroli.

On the other hand, Shanta Sheela has brought Child Welfare Committee members and the Chief Medical Officer to her school to interact with the children on child safety and health guidelines.

Teacher Saravanan, a good writer and a friendly headmaster of a primary school in Madurai, has facilitated awareness education with the aid of art forms like puppetry, storytelling, and singing.  With the support of his school teachers and school alumni, he conducts awareness programmes for both children and parents in multiple other locations.

 “In the areas that we cover, most of the parents are daily-wage earners. The children tend to stay alone at home or are usually left under the care of neighbours. So, we try to make them aware of their rights as we want them to grow under safe circumstances,” says Saravanan

He is in discussion with the parents and teachers to form Child Protection Committees in their localities.  He has also inaugurated a Human Rights Club in his school in the presence of a District Education Officer and the School Management Committee, involving every stakeholder in the process of child protection.  He believes:

“A child protection ambassador is someone who motivates other teachers and constantly engages with parents and state authorities, thereby building a safe environment for children.”

Teacher Bhuvana who teaches at the higher secondary level reached out to other schools in the neighbourhood and conducted two awareness sessions for children and teachers through movie screenings and discussions.  She discussed issues related to child safety with the Gram Sabha members, where 40 people and 12 students were present. She spoke on the importance of Village Child Protection Committees and encouraged them to form one.

She has also brought the District Judicial Magistrate, District Child Welfare Officer, a lawyer, and a Sub-Inspector to impart legal awareness to the entire school on child protection where 860 children were present.  She says:

“The state should have more child protection teacher ambassadors and the State Education Department should take responsibility to implement the same.

Teacher Udayalakshmi’s approach works more with students who are in high school. She initiated a discussion on child safety with 104 students in her school. She says:

“The open discussion with children helped me understand the challenges they go through and support them. It’s important that every child protection ambassador become a counsellor who can provide guidelines to children in distress”  

Teacher Sathya from Trichy, known as ‘Saval Sathya’ (Challenging Sathya) has initiated a dialogue with the School Management Committee (SMC) and has taken various steps in ensuring a safe school environment. Besides the regular awareness sessions with children, together with the SMC, she is setting up a library for children with resources on child rights and child protection.  She is also following up with district-level education officials for training on child safety for all teachers in the district.

Teacher Nagarajan’s song about a hat is very popular among children and teachers.  As he sings about the different types of hats used by different communities, people, and culture, he keeps folding a newspaper into different hat designs. It’s a simple and fun song that teaches the concept of diversity. He adapted this approach to the message of child protection as well. He created a script for a Villupattu, a folk art that involves music interlaced with storytelling to convey the message to parents and children. He has been involved in union level training for SMC members and district level training for teachers and introduced child protection to engage stakeholders with the Our Safety, Our Rights campaign.

There are many more stories to narrate. 

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Many other teachers who are not ‘Ambassadors’, yet passionately work with children in creating awareness.  On certain occasions, despite many difficulties, they stood by children and intervened to protect them. Teacher Anandhi (name changed) faced a lot of threats when she protected a child from her abusive father.  This child shared her ordeal with teacher Anandhi immediately after Anandhi’s awareness session on child sexual abuse in her class.

Teacher Udayan (name changed) has stood up for a child who reported abuse by another teacher to CWC members. Teacher Mahalakshmi is another unique and inspiring personality, who has received many awards at a young age and has been acknowledged in a BBC documentary for her work with tribal children in a remote hill area. She puts children first, creates space for them to imbibe values of dignity, equality, respect, non-discrimination, and social justice. She uses thappattam, traditional folk art to build confidence and courage.  Besides her regular awareness sessions with children, she appeals to authorities to resolve safety concerns like lack of water facilities, issues with the compound wall, and bathroom in hostels.  The Human Rights Club in her school has taken action to get many of these facilities built in their school.

What turns these teachers into agents of change? 

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They are dedicated to the mission of protecting children. They have a strong social conscience and critically analyse the world around them. Most importantly, they have a strong bond among themselves in spite of differences in caste and creed. While working with them, I have often witnessed a culture of respect and the practice of democratic ethos and values in decision making.

While some of them have already inculcated values, I have also seen human rights education imparted by our partner, Institute of Social Education and other organisations, have an immense impact on them.

 “Raising awareness among children about their rights and being a voice to defend the rights of others makes me feel happy and satisfied,” says Shanta Sheela

Even COVID-19 and the lockdown did not stop them.

Most of them were involved in providing relief material to the people in distress. They keep in touch with their children and parents either through village visits or phone calls.  As part of their Child-Friendly School network, they have organised a series of webinars for teachers across Tamil Nadu on various topics that are affecting children including child sexual abuse and exploitation. They prepared innovative child-friendly resources and appealed to the state government about concerns of children during the pandemic.

On this Teacher’s Day, kudos to them! Hoping to see many more change-makers in our human rights education journey. A great gratitude and acknowledgment to our partner organisation, Institute of Social Education, and their staff and a special thanks to the dedicated young coordinators Muthu Rani and Monica for their beautiful journey with these change-makers as well as Director Shyam Sundar for being an inspiration to them.

Your dedication and passion for this campaign takes us closer to our goal of keeping every child safe, every day.

Author: Rajakumari Michaelsamy heads the Human Rights Education program at Amnesty International India