Adolescents’ Entry To Little one Providers, Psychological Well being in Small Cities Nonetheless Poor

Image: Cdd20 / pixabay.

“I don’t know why I’m angry all the time”, “Is it okay to kiss my boyfriend?”, “I have no friends and I feel very lonely when I get to school”, “What do I do When is someone following me home? “,” Will good girls chat with strangers on Facebook? “These are just some of the questions we were asked during a gender workshop in a small town in Tamil Nadu. There are barely any inaccessible platforms to answer these myriad of questions and complaints from adolescents – curiosity, sexual orientation, dysmorphism, mental health problems, or even concerns about abuse or harassment. Without comprehensive sex education and counseling programs at the school level, these children either need to identify their problems for themselves or turn to childcare services for advice. According to the Childline 2018 report, the second most common reason to seek help is for psychosocial counseling.

Over the years, the state’s response to child abuse and the mental health of children and adolescents has definitely improved through more child-centered policies and legislation. While services – starting with several helplines, counseling services and other support structures – have expanded the scope of the state, their effectiveness and sensitivity in dealing with sensitive issues such as child abuse, harassment or fear in young people is questionable.

This article uses a few anecdotes from a gender awareness session in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu to explore the sensitivity and accessibility of support services for youth.

Vanitha, a 13-year-old girl, opened up to her teachers to be a victim of harassment. The school later informed the parents and helped them get in touch with the district commission for the protection of children’s rights. However, the Commission’s response was filled with legal and bureaucratic jargon about filing a case – rather than asking about the details of the case and the child’s current state of mind. And although a district official attended school the next day, he was more curious about the alleged relationship between the girl and the attacker and whether she “liked” him. The girl and her family, already unsettled by the traumatic experience, were then subjected to further questions about their chastity.

Regardless, the parents and school authorities were at a loss as to how to help Vanitha, especially since they found her story and her details changed with each tale. Some experts in the field suggested that there was no coherence in their story and recommended psychological help. When the family consulted a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist concluded – with no evaluations or analysis – that Vanitha had lied and threatened her with electroshock therapy if she lied again. They also prescribed some sedatives before reprimanding her for good behavior. Vanitha is no longer sure of her story and no one could find out what exactly happened to her. Her parents just want Vanitha to “forget” everything and concentrate on her studies. They also lack the time and resources to get Vanitha to the next town.

Here what could have been an abuse or even a memory of a childhood trauma or mental health condition was dismissed as untrue or attention-grabbing behavior. In doing so, the response violated several elements of the guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act 2012 for support workers and mental health professionals.

In other words, in India, parents and schools are very brave to report or talk about harassment as the state’s response can be intimidating. In Vanitha’s case, the government responded to the problem in a bureaucratic manner rather than offering sensitivity or empathy. The adults surrounding the children – parents, teachers, extended family members – are in most cases similarly incapable of handling problems as they should be and may need guidance and help. Even when most parents are concerned about the well-being of their children, there is generally a lack of awareness of issues such as abuse, sexuality, and mental health. They are more likely to seek help if their child is in a relationship, asserting their individuality, or scores less on tests than if their child has a mental health problem.

It just so happens that our childcare services are not prepared to solve even simpler problems. Priya, a 15-year-old girl, called the hotline because she was scared and annoyed by constant calls from an unknown man to her number. Her fear increased when he threatened to come to her house. In the absence of her parents, she sought advice from the hotline. The person who replied initially asked them to stay calm and asked for their parents ‘and schools’ contact details. Then they visited her at school the next day. And while Priya’s parents and teachers supported Priya in her action and believed she had done the right thing, the helpline advisors were more skeptical. At their meeting, the counselors asked about the social life of Priya and her friends and suggested to the parents and teachers that the problem was allowing Priya to own a phone.

Fears of public ridicule and bad reputation are constant. But if support providers are insensitive only when children, parents, and other students are extremely vulnerable and scared, the whole purpose of having support providers is lost. Indeed, such responses raise concerns about whether it is right to refer children and their families to such under-equipped services.

The examples of Vanitha and Priya’s stories show how parents and school administrators, while really trying to help children in need, are disappointed by poor information, accessible resources, and support from professionals. In both cases, the authorities employed and trained to support children – child rights officers, psychiatric specialists and helpline employees – increased regressive prejudices against the sexes and increased insecurities among those seeking care. Their actions reflect a greater culture of moral police and victim guilt, both of which could cause more trauma.

In India, there are a variety of barriers to accessing mental health services, including service availability, affordability, social stigma and a lack of awareness. Almost 9.8 million Indians between the ages of 13 and 17 require active intervention. An average of 28 students under the age of 18 kill themselves every day in India. However, there are fewer than 900 psychologists and fewer than 900 psychiatric social workers – instead of the 20,250 and 37,000 that are needed, respectively. So the problem isn’t just that we don’t have enough good quality support services. This is a major systemic flaw in our approach to youth care.

In our study of 150 parents and 70 teachers at a school in Kumbakonam, 70% of parents said they needed more information on youth and sex education. In our survey of 600 students, we said that 74% said they trusted their parents and their peers with teachers and had little information about helplines and other support mechanisms. The well-being and protection of our children from abuse requires a more community-centered approach with parents, peers and teachers all part of the conversation. Efforts to expand community awareness and immediate support systems at all levels through broad awareness-raising go a long way toward creating a more proactive, safer, and more reliable environment for children.

Sethulakshmi V. is a feminist researcher and artist who previously worked on grassroots level initiatives related to traditional livelihoods, gender and children’s rights. Vaishnavi C. is an independent researcher and activist based in Kumbakonam and has experience working with government and civil society interventions related to political participation and women. He can be reached on Twitter at @_itsvaishnavi.

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