Forum: Whole-of-society approach to protect children from sexual abuse

We agree with Ms Tay Su Lian (Do more to empower kids to protect themselves against sexual abuse, Aug 26) and Ms Caroline Chee (Don't confuse kids with notion that all physical contact is bad and sexual abuse, Aug 31) that a whole-of-society approach is needed to protect our children.

Parents are often the first port of call when children need help. Schools actively engage them to share information and resources on how to look out for signs of distress and to encourage their children to share their concerns. Parents can also use resources such as the KidzLive booklet developed by Singapore Children's Society to teach children about sexual abuse.

In schools, children learn about concepts such as body safety and how to protect themselves from abuse, in an age-appropriate manner.

The Nurturing Early Learners Framework guides pre-school teachers to teach children appropriate behaviours that promote self and group safety. The framework has been updated and will be launched at the end of the year. The updated framework explicitly mentions the importance of teaching children body safety awareness (for example, recognising safe and unsafe body touches, how to talk about feelings and to seek help from trusted adults when they feel hurt or unsafe).

Pre-school teachers can attend courses to learn ways to teach children about body safety skills and to identify signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect. For example, in-service teachers can attend a course to learn how to teach children protective skills to prevent sexual abuse.

From Primary 1, pupils learn about personal safety and the importance of establishing boundaries for themselves and others through Character and Citizenship Education lessons. These are reinforced at higher levels. School leaders and teachers are also trained to identify and report cases of child abuse.

In addition, the Ministry of Social and Family Development's public education efforts, such as the Break the Silence campaign, aim to increase public awareness of abuse and encourage the public to report suspected cases of abuse, including child sexual abuse.

We recently introduced a hand gesture, Signal for Help - done by holding up one hand with the thumb tucked into the palm, and then folding the fingers over the thumb - so that victims, including children, can discreetly and safely call for help.

Protecting children is everyone's responsibility. We urge anyone who suspects or witnesses any form of child abuse to call the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline on 1800-777-0000.

Yoganathan Ammayappan

Senior Director, Rehabilitation and Protection Group

Ministry of Social and Family Development

Tan Chen Kee

Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools) and Director of Schools

Ministry of Education

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