A week after she was abducted from the high security India Gate, three-year-old
returned home on Sunday. This lost-and-found story may be the result of a dedicated social media campaign or a stroke of plain luck.
Thousands of other children who are taken from Delhi’s streets – estimates say 20 children go missing in the capital every day – are not so lucky. Crime statistics say four to five, or one-fourth, of these missing children never find their way back home.
In fact, a report says three children are kidnapped from India Gate every day. This is the same space which every child in Delhi must have visited one time or another, raced around or played football as the family chatted on a picnic rug close by or took a walk near the monument even as parents bought ice-cream for them.
After the recent abduction, those are the little joys which will be refused to children by scared parents. Something to add to the rather long list of what children cannot do in this city which is increasingly proving to be no place for kids.
“After the recent incident, I would think twice about heading to India Gate or Nehru Park with my daughter. Even when she is playing in the neighbourhood park, I am there, watching over her. Kids are losing out on so much due to the safety considerations. Children in our colony have been told by their parents not to venture outside the park while they are playing. So much so, they are banned from playing hide and seek because that means being away from parents’ watchful eye!” says Tamanna Khurana, mother of five-year-old Eda.
Gone are those long, lazy evenings in the parks when play hours would stretch late into night. A power cut meant few more stolen minutes – or hours – to play. Now, video games have replaced hide and seek or tag and, make no mistake, safety is one big concern why parents are shooing children inside the houses.
Only, they are hardly safe in there or in the schools either. A recent incident in a west Delhi school where a three-year-old was raped by the son of the owner of the playschool is a case in point. Around the same time, a guard working at a playschool was arrested for molesting a three-year-old at a Rohini play school.
These incidents are by no means an exception, instead they point to a deeper malaise in the society wherein predators turn on the most vulnerable.
Delhi is a city in flux, maybe a test case for most metros in the country.
In the scenario, it again becomes the duty of parents to keep the children safe. “It is never too early to begin awareness and education of children. Instead of making it a special occasion, introduce the lessons innocuously in everyday conversation – while you are together at the dinner table or reading a newspaper. Repeat till they are ingrained in the child’s system. Always keep the communication channel open with the child,” says Dr Rachna K Singh, Holistic Medicine and Psychologist, Artemis Hospital.
How to keep your children safe at home
• Before you hire any domestic staff, ensure that they have been verified by the police. If young children are to be left alone in the care of domestic staff, get cameras installed which will help you to keep an eye on what is happening.
• Encourage healthy communication with your child and impress upon them that you trust them implicitly. Always listen when they come to you with a complaint. “Also, it is never too early to explain the difference between good and bad touch. If you find yourself unequal to the task, rope in the preschool/school authorities who can bring in an expert to explain it to the children,” says Singh.
• Tell them why they cannot go anywhere with a stranger or accept anything from them. It is okay for them to say no when they don’t like what is happening and no one is allowed to scare them or swear them to secrecy. When there are clear ‘nevers’ that a child can follow, he or she will not have to have to take decisions at the spur of a moment.
• In case of toddlers, teach them your address, name of parents and a relevant phone number. When children are playing in the park, a parent or a guardian should be present to supervise. You can do it on the lines of neighbourhood watch scheme where a different parent/guardian is responsible for each day.
• Have a code word the child has to ask when anyone other than parents or guardians come to fetch them from school or playground. Practice it till the children understand the drill.
• Latch-key children should be very clear what they are supposed to do when any stranger comes knocking. Even in the case of relatives or friends, they should first call you or the person in-charge before opening the door.
• Also, if your child talks about a person who does not belong in their world, check that person out. If any suspicious person is hanging around your house, your child’s school or playground, report him/ her immediately.
• Keep a back-up plan ready in case you are not there, for instance a trusted neighbor or friend that the child can approach if they think something is not right.
• While admitting your child to a school, pay as much attention to the school’s security paraphernalia as you do to its academic achievements. Ensure teachers are present on bus routes.
• Before a picnic or excursion, ask what security arrangements have been made. Also, ensure you know the route the children will be travelling on. Open days -- where parents get to meet teachers and other staff members of the school -- are a great way to let parents know how the school functions and build trust.
• Keep an eye on any unaccounted physical injury, behavior change or drop in the performance of child. “Experts can be called in for workshops with teachers and other staff so that they are also sensitized,” asks Dr Singh.