Regulation on Hugging Children and its impact…

Lately, Indian society is discussing the  issue of child abuse fervently. The issue has  been there for a while, just that it has picked steam post Delhi incident. We realise there are some deeper societal issues which needs to be resolved and child abuse is one.

Richard McKenzie and Kathryn Shelto discuss this fairly sensitive topic. They point to 1980s when movements  to restrict hugging children started in US:

The movement to restrict hugging emerged in 1983 when Pam Church created the “Good-Touch/Bad-Touch” curriculum after learning that her children had been sexually abused.  Designed to teach 1st- through 6th-grade students about abuse prevention, the curriculum has since been revised 11 times, is  used by over 6,000 educators, and operates in most states.

Age- appropriate programs teach children “body safety” rules through an interactive syllabus intended to help them feel confident in  saying “no.” In 2005, the program was acquired by Childhelp, the leading nonprofit organization for preventing child abuse, which  now operates under the name “Speak Up, Be Safe.” Almost 30  years after the implementation of Good-Touch/Bad-Touch, other related policies have been implemented by thousands of schools, churches, and childcare centers. To thwart potentially inappropriate contact between their staff members and children, hordes of institutions across the country and around the world have instituted “hugging policies.” Some institutions have banned hugs of all kinds to prevent perceived sexual advances by staff members toward children and to protect their legal liability. Schools in New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, and elsewhere have made hugging an offense punishable by suspension or expulsion, even for children hugging one another.

This however has unintended consequences:

Understandably, widespread media and legal attention has, over the last several decades, led to the spread of institutionbased hugging restrictions because of what psychologists dub the “availability bias.” Decisionmakers can elevate, and likely exaggerate, the threat of pedophilia founded on hugs—and disregard the gains for children from innocent hugs. The problem with restrictive hugging policies is that hugs can be good for children’s souls, minds, and behaviors, which can have subsequent beneficial economic consequences—literally.

They show research which point to these unintended consequences..

In the end:

The spate of recent, widely reported child molestation convictions should put people on alert for hidden cases of ongoing
child molestation and assault. We also need to be mindful that decisions on restrictive care policies (with hugging being
one of a number) can have inadvertent negative consequences for children. Obviously, research on the benefits and harms that flow from restrictive hugging policies is warranted, lest we impair the development of children—especially already disadvantaged children—with the best of protective policy intentions. The better road forward is for institutions to screen prospective staff members carefully and then monitor their contact with children.

One is surely disturbed reading such pieces. Complex sociological problems and one just does not know what to say.  But we need much better discussion than we current have on these topics…Need introspection and guidance from experts on the matter…

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