Many years ago, when the offspring was a little boy just out of pull ups, but not yet to be trusted with a hand faucet, I’d had the chat with him. The good touch-bad touch chat. I had told him in no uncertain terms that no one was allowed to touch him without his consent. And definitely not on the parts of his body covered by his underwear. And if anyone did so, he was to say Stop, No, I will tell.

And it so came to pass that I was in the midst of a presentation when the mobile phone began vibrating manically. I peeked at it to see who was calling. It was my mother. Panicking, because the offspring was in her custody for the day, I excused myself and stepped out to take the call.

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“Speak to your son,” she said, as I answered, her tone exhausted and resigned. She handed the instrument to the offspring.

“Mamma, mamma,” he piped up, his voice fifty shades of indignant, “Nana’s washing my bum. I told her mamma said no one has to touch my bum.”

I had to convince him that Nana would just help aim the faucet to ensure the bathroom wasn’t a disaster zone and flooded in given his faucet wielding skills. She would not touch his bum I assured him. Part of me was glad though that the message had gotten home. He would pipe up loud and strident if he felt that no contact zones were being impinged upon. Why am I thinking of this anecdote almost 12 years later, when his days of having his bum washed by irate grandmas are long behind him?

Part of me was glad though that the message had gotten home. He would pipe up loud and strident if he felt that no contact zones were being impinged upon.

It was this clip I watched yesterday. To all purposes, it was a clip meant to be cute. It was a clip from a popular television show with celebrity judges and children yesterday, meant to elicit an ‘Aww’ from the viewer. Celebrity judge Jacqueline Fernandez asks one of the contestants, a rather determined young boy, perhaps six or seven years at the max, to give her a hug. The lad, one who knew his mind and did not hesitate to voice it loud and clear, stated he didn’t want to. Jacqueline was surprised as were the rest of the judges, including Salman Khan. Why not, they asked. “Because I don’t feel like it,” he replied, standing his ground rather firmly. At this, Salman Khan got up from his seat, saying, I’ll see how you don’t hug her. He takes Jacqueline with him up to the stage and makes the kid give Jacqueline a hug.

This is wrong at so many levels. This is a negation of all we’re teaching kids about their autonomy over their bodies, about their right to say no to unwelcome touch. Even if it comes from a pretty film star and is not sexual in intent, unwelcome touch is a violation of a kid’s right to autonomy over their own bodies.

This is a negation of all we’re teaching kids about their autonomy over their bodies, about their right to say no to unwelcome touch.

The concept of consent and bodily autonomy begins young. It starts by acknowledging the fact that a child is the master of his or own body and has the right to refuse to hug, kiss or be hugged or kissed by anyone. When does violation begin? It begins when you tell a child to hug and kiss someone they are not comfortable hugging and kissing. It could be a parent, grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, anyone who is immediate family, from within the circle of trust. That is the very first stage of violation of a child’s concept of agency and consent. It begins when you don’t respect a child’s personal space, and intrude into it, or allow others to intrude into it, because they are loving adults in the child’s life. Incidentally, statistics do show that a majority of CSA cases happen with the perpetrator a trusted adult in the life of the child, not necessarily a stranger in a dark alley as the popular narrative goes.

What happens when you consistently deny a child bodily autonomy? The child begins to believe that he or she has no agency and must go along with whatever an adult says whether they like it or not. This lack of agency and pliability is what child molesters prey upon and take advantage of. A child who believes, through years of conditioning, that an adult has every right to touch, hug or kiss him or her, merely because the other is an adult is one who will not protest. This child will not complain, and is therefore more susceptible to grooming and abuse by a perpetrator.

A child who believes, through years of conditioning, that an adult has every right to touch, hug or kiss him or her, merely because the other is an adult is one who will not protest.

The little boy on stage in that clip had my sympathy. I admired the agency and confidence with which he said he did not feel like hugging Jacqueline, and repeated it. I admired him for knowing his mind and not being intimidated by the celebrity panel into changing it to please them. I was appalled by the grownups, and the celebrity panel of judges laughing at him for simply stating what he was not comfortable with. I was even more appalled by the celebrities. None of them stepped in to say, “Completely okay, he doesn’t want to hug Jacqueline, that’s his wish and his choice, we must respect it.” I am appalled that a grown man thought it acceptable to go on stage and intimidate a child into hugging a grown woman when the child expressly stated he didn’t want to. And it is unforgivable that the channel didn’t step in at this point and stop this ridiculousness.

I was appalled by the grownups, and the celebrity panel of judges laughing at him for simply stating what he was not comfortable with. I was even more appalled by the celebrities.

Unless and until we recognise that children have the right of agency over their own bodies, this will continue. Over and over again. And then no matter how much we teach them good touch, bad touch and say Stop, No, I will tell, they will be vulnerable. Sadly, they will have learnt that what they wish will always be overruled and that they will be laughed at when they say No.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV

Also Read: Every woman needs a fuck off fund for her financial safety says Kiran Manral

Picture Credit: Eparent

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