Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Childhood and Relationship With Parents and Family,where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences that we all have experienced in some form or the other in our birth or chosen families and have been negotiating with them everyday. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
Children’s sexuality has been a place for debate for a long time and still is. The child protection policies in India are well crafted to preserve the childhood of all children. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was enacted to provide a robust legal framework for the protection of children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, while safeguarding the interest of the child at every stage of the judicial process.
All this is what I believe is extremely vital, but are they forgetting something?
From a legal perspective, children need protection and there is protection. Having said that, I would also like to ask all the adults who may be reading this, is it, anyhow possible to ask children what to be protected may mean for them? What would being safe look like for our kids?
Agency and children almost do not go hand in hand. We are afraid to share even a fraction of our power with them. What are we afraid of? Yes, children need protection, they need adults to make this world a better place for them, but should we not ask them, at least once, how do they want that to happen? All the laws in India in terms of protecting children from sexual assault are very unidimensional; they are somehow negligent of the fact that children have sexualities too. They feel attracted, they want to receive pleasure as well.
Is it a good idea to deny this aspect altogether in making a safe world for our children?
Instead, should we not focus on creating a space where children are free to express themselves, and explore their sexualities in a safe and healthy manner? Are we not, in our quest to address sexual violence on children, denying them of their desires? Are we not shifting the onus on them by asking them to be asexual in the name of their safety?
I feel that as adults we need to widen our gaze and work towards a world where children are not at risk for expressing their sexuality. I know that it is a battle for many generations to come; yet I speak and urge boldly to all the grown-ups, teachers, parents and all care givers alike to listen to your kids, ask them what they feel and then have that uncomfortable ‘sex’ talk with them. Having been a queer child, I would speak about this with utmost firmness for I deserved to be told that the attraction I felt, the sense of being I was developing was absolutely valid and normal. Having been an educator I right now speak from experience that many kids feel alone, helpless and confused at a time, when for the first time they realise their sexuality.
Feeling Attracted Is Okay
Children start developing attraction to one or many genders at an age around eleven to fourteen. It is during this time, we as caregivers, must tell them that it is okay to feel drawn to someone emotionally and sexually. This feeling, for most children, would be something new and the not being able to deal with this urge may lead to drastic and inappropriate actions. We as adults must tell them that there is nothing shameful about attraction towards a person. Show them movies about coming of age, share your own experiences like stories of childhood crushes and how you felt and what you did, tell them what you feel you could have done better as well.
Here is a link to an article on sexual orientation that may be helpful.
Know Your Boundaries
While acknowledging attraction in children it is equally important to tell them the importance of boundaries and consent as well. Tell them that if someone does not reciprocate the same feelings, they must not pursue. “No means no” is something that they should be aware of from a very early age. They should know that their body is their own and nobody has the right to touch them without them wanting. They should know that wanting to do something in a situation of emotional, mental and physical pressure is not consent and feeling pleasure might not always mean consent either.
Here is a link to an article on teaching consent to children.
Pleasure is Not Shameful
Changes in the body are something that must not be ignored. Talking about the physiological aspect of attraction would help children demystify the curiosity around sex. Telling them that how most pornographic films are make belief, the projection of women in them are problematic and how non cis-white-thin-able bodied people are upheld in these films would make them kinder people. Body mapping is something that caregivers must do with their kids; children must be aware of the functionality of their organs and feeling the need to masturbate and to do the same is absolutely natural.
Here is a link to article on sex education.
Do Not Ignore Safety
As adults, it is our primary responsibility to assure safe avenues for our kids to express who they are. We as caregivers must be able to build a relationship of trust for our kids. We must be non-judgmental for them to tell us their concerns and struggles. We must make them aware of the laws pertaining to child protection in our country and the legal boundaries that comes with it.
Encouraging children to socialise in their own age group is important and telling them the risks involved with being around with older children and even adults might render them in a situation of powerlessness. Telling adolescent and post adolescent children about sexual and reproductive rights, safe sex and the risks involved with random sexual behaviors is vital. Online safety is something that cannot be ignored in this new age of the internet. Children must be aware of the risks involved in talking to strangers over social media.
This link is a guide to online safety for children.
Asexuality Is Valid
Last but not the least, making sure that while talking about sexual behavior, it not should not in any way lead to the dismissal of the fact that kids can be asexual too. Having the conversation around that so that children do not feel pressured by peers or the society at large to act out of their way, to do something that they don’t think is for them is something that cannot be ignored.
Here is a link to an article on gender and sexuality that may be helpful.
Having said all of the above, I feel it is important to remind myself and all my adult friends that as much as it is our responsibility to equip our kids to explore their sexualities in a safe and informed manner, it is our responsibility as well, to constantly drive towards systemic changes to ensure our kids are safe. Let us all strive and stride towards a better world where children are protected yet heard, guided yet free, natured yet upheld.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India