Empowering children and families for safety

A child’s safety from sex predators is our collective responsibility and it’s crucial that we help in their mental development and social wellbeing. Joanna Lee speaks to a passionate child developmental expert about her message to parents and society.

Yasmin Abdul Majid, an educator, counsellor and expert in child development walked into the colourful activity room and sat comfortably in a tiny chair next to us at a round children’s plastic table in a kindergarten.

Armed with 25 years of dealing with children and training early childhood educators, the mother of four shared zealously about the reasons behind her initiative to educate children and parents about child personal safety.

Yasmin saw the need to do something after the spate of news about sexual predators’ and child sexual abuse in the media. Without much funding, she single-handedly started Power2Kids, Power2Tweens and Power2Teens – free workshops that aim to teach children personal safety skills and help parents foster these skills.

Power2Kids caters to children from 5-8 years old, Power2Tweens are for 9-12 year old kids while Power2Teens are for teenagers 13 and above

“I’ve dealt with a few cases, and when I asked the children “So, why didn’t you tell somebody? the child would answer, “No-lah, but the person has power, right?”

She saw a problem in this common response from child abuse victims and set her efforts on addressing the root of this mentality through three areas.

Respecting children’s right to safety

“Firstly, children have rights,” she said. “We have to respect their rights. We have to go from thinking we’re doing such great favours for children to understanding that what we do is actually our responsibility to children,” Yasmin said.

She continued, “It’s not a favour or something we do out of the goodness of our hearts. It’s the obligation and responsibility of society to give children these rights. One of these rights is safety.

Physical safety is about the space we ready for children. She lamented broken swings and see-saws. “People say, “Nevermind-lah, who’s going to play? Kids only what,” She said this sort of mentality requires a change of mindset.

Requires action and policy changes 

“It also requires policy changes.” She cited the example of Jaya One mall that has created a child protection booklet informing parents and mall tenants about the standard operating procedures and a chain of responses like all doors closed or toilets scanned once any child is reported missing.

She said that higher up, policies have to change for schools, parks and malls, everywhere that children are found.

“People can say and do nice things but if we really respect children’s rights, it would be reflected in the way we do things and in the way we form policies,” she said.

In the past 25 years, she has had a lot of experience with children and policy makers in associations, ministries and NGO’s.

“Only in March 2017, did we implement an anti-grooming law,” she said. Although many rejoiced, Yasmin said it was sad because “it wasn’t implemented earlier on” and that it “had to come to this extreme situation for us to force Parliament to speak on this and come up with the Sexual Abuse Act.”

Child’s right to be informed

“Thirdly, kids should know. Anything that they have to face, anything that is done to them, they must know. Why are we not telling children about these dangers that they face,” Yasmin asked.

Yasmin said in the States, for example, before a doctor touches the child, he or she would explain what they are going to do to the child as a part of the medical procedure.

Being informed of the situation they’re in, like what the rules are, the consequences of breaking rules, or what they should do when they don’t feel safe gives children the power to say “no” and to seek help when they need it.

Three key messages in Power2Kids

In her workshops, Yasmin teaches children and parents four key messages.

“First, you’re the boss of your body. Second, if you don’t like it, you can say no,” she said.

“Third, if somebody doesn’t respect your privacy or your body, or yourself, you need to tell an adult who can help you,” she explained gently but firmly.

The other lesson that she teaches would be what the private areas of the body are (mouth, chest, genitals, buttocks) which comes under preventing sexual abuse.

“I’m telling these to protect them physically, emotionally, or sexually,” she said.

One of Yasmin’s criteria for her workshops is that parents would also need to attend with their children so that they understand.

Ever since she started the workshops, she has sometimes conducted 31 Power2Kids courses within a span of two months. Word went out like wildfire.

“Even parents would feel more empowered after the talk,” she said, with some parents telling her, “We don’t know where to start, but now that you’ve talked about it, we can go back, talk about it and we can show them videos.”

Parents can find the YouTube videos titled #kidshouldknow about ‘Safe Touch’ and watch with their children. Yasmin has also not copyrighted her materials so that others can learn and teach children as well.

“Chances are, when children become victims of abuse, they do not get rehabilitated, and they’re 10 times more likely to become abusers themselves. So in another ten years, if we don’t do anything to stop it now, we would see a situation where we could no longer (have) control,” she said, speaking of the many unreported sexual abuse cases around Malaysia and the deeply damaging consequences of letting it happen.

At the time of the interview, Yasmin was actually taking a break from training a group of early childhood teachers mostly from Malay pre-schools to empower them to teach kids.

Yasmin’s wish is that more people in Malaysia would teach and advocate for children’s rights to be heard and to be given agency and to develop to their best abilities within a safer society.

“Through this knowledge, children are empowered,” Yasmin said. “Then they’ll know how they can tell, who they can tell.”

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