Recently, a child sexual abuse awareness advertisement has gone viral. The company which produced it, Purani Dili Talkies, called it a 'social experiment'. They invited a father and child to their studios, and carried out an 'experiment' to see whether a stranger could get the child, a kindergarten student, to take off his clothes. They announced that it had taken the stranger less than five minutes to convince the child to acquiesce.
What parades as an awareness campaign seems, to me at least, to be a callous experiment on an unsuspecting child.
We speak of the innocence of childhood, and how it can be dangerous. However, in proving this point, organisations may, in fact, have endangered and even scarred children.
A couple of years ago, another CSA awareness advertisement, titled 'Dumb Charades', became a social media hit. In it, a seemingly loving and involved couple play dumb charades with their child, who reveals through the course of the game that he is being abused by an uncle. Towards the end, he even partially removes his clothes.
Yes, the idea is a good one – it conveys that most abuse is carried out by people who are known to the family, or part of the family; it conveys that children find it difficult to speak about their trauma, because they are not sure that what is happening to them is wrong, and they are not sure that it is not their fault, and they are not sure that they will find a sympathetic audience in their parents.
However, the use of an actual child in such advertisements – and a child whose face is seen, and who becomes recognisable from the campaign – needs to be regulated.
One wonders whether the parents of these child actors, or – in the case of the 'social experiment', of the boy who submitted to it – are even aware of the entire script of these ads.
In a country where the laws regarding the use of children in films, advertisement, and other kinds of social media, are loose, at best, one also wonders whether such media do pass through a regulatory body before being unleashed online.
A search for 'CSA awareness' or 'Child Sexual Abuse Awareness' on YouTube lists several purported ad campaigns, which are almost pornographic.
One shows a girl drawing a picture, as a man slumped on the bed eyes her greedily. A woman, probably her mother, finishes cooking, and leaves home. The man walks up to the child, and starts talking about how beautiful her drawing is, and how beautiful she is. He caresses her in a predatory manner, and eventually carries her up the stairs. The camera stays on them throughout. He is actually touching a child.
Another one has a teenage maid being abused by her employer. He puts his arms around her waist as she is cooking, and then, in pretending to wipe away a stain on her kurta, rubs his hands against her breasts. Later, he sits on the bed, watching porn, while she is cleaning the room. There is a close-up shot of her cleavage. The actor playing the maid does not look like an adult, and seems to be rather embarrassed throughout.
Over the years, several mainstream movies in Tamil and Hindi have featured children in various states of undress.
What resources do these child actors have, for when they grow up and perhaps feel the trauma of having been used in an unsavoury manner, even if it is to convey a purported social message?
Some years ago, the Academy Award-nominated Danish film Jagten by director Thomas Vinterberg, provoked questions about the use of children in films with sensitive subjects. However, Vinterberg seems to have been careful not to expose the child to any speech or scenes that may be unsuitable for her age, and given the strict monitoring of child welfare in all the Scandinavian countries, one is fairly sure it was regulated.
While education about child sexual abuse is crucial, one wonders if there isn't a way to do it without actually using children.
The Netherlands-based wing of the NGO Terre Des Hommes came up with the concept of creating a computer-generated child figure, whom they named Sweetie, in order to find online predators. In a campaign to stop webcam child sex tourism, the organisation developed a virtual child. Using this nonexistent child as bait, they tracked more than 1000 criminals who have cybersex with children, in less than two months.
Perhaps we should be looking at similar options – animation, or the use of computer graphics, rather than exposing children to the very dangers against which we are trying to send out a message.
Read more by the author:
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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com