Child Protection



The goals of prevention are to ensure a positive and safe environment so that physical and sexual abuse don't occur and to help children and young adolescents make informed decisions about their health.

Schools can, and many do, play a part in the prevention of child abuse through the curriculum, by providing positive role models and opportunities for particpation. Besides, effective communication with children is the most important key to child safety. Life skills programmes can give children skills for coping with problems as they arise.
(See Skills-based Health Education)

Physical and Sexual Abuse

What You Can Do to Identify Physical and Sexual Abuse

  1. Be sensitive to changes in children's behaviour; they are a signal that you should sit down and talk to children about what caused the changes.
  2. Teach children to trust their own feelings, and assure them that they have the right to say NO to what they sense is wrong.
  3. Listen carefully to children's fears, and be supportive in all your discussions with them.
  4. Teach children that no one should approach them or touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. If someone does, they should tell teachers or parents immediately.
  5. Unfortunately, much physical abuse in caused by teachers and parents. You may need to ba an advocate for children in your school if corporal punishment is in use.
(See the Child Protection pages on Violence)

Detecting Sexual Abuse

Even more so than adults, children will be likely to avoid mention of abuse due to shame or fear. So how are a teacher or a health care professional to know if a child is experiencing or has experienced sexual abuse? There is no simple answer, but some indications are suggested by physicians and other practitioners.

Signs of sexual abuse in children and adolescents

6-11 Years

12-17 Years


  • Engages in explicit sexual behaviours with other children.
  • Verbally describes experiences of sexual abuse.
  • Excessive concern or preoccupation with private parts.
  • Sexualised relating to adults.
  • Sudden fear or mistrust of males, females or specific places.
  • Age inappropriate knowledge of adult sexual behaviour.
  • Sleep disturbances: Night mares and night terrors
  • Sexually exploitative interactions with younger children
  • Sexually promiscuous behaviour or total avoidance of sexual involvement
  • Eating disturbances
  • Efforts to distance from feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation
  • Running away from home


  • Engages in explicit sexual behaviours with other children
  • Sudden fear or mistrust of males, females or specific places
  • Sleep disturbances: Night mares and night terrors
  • Sudden aggressive behaviour or acting out
  • Loss of interest in previous interests
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Sexually exploitative or aggressive interactions with younger children
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Acting out and risk taking behaviour
  • Efforts to distance from feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation

Precautions: The above mentioned signs or symptoms are to be considered only as rough guidelines to indicate that a child is in trouble and that the cause may be sexual abuse. It is very important, however, not to jump on any individual symptom or behaviour and conclude that abuse has taken place. Rather you must look for groups of symptoms and use your intuition.

(from: I. Leth, UNICEF Child Protection)

Also see Signs of Physical and Emotional Child Abuse from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Healthy Sexuality Education

One of the challenges to caring teachers is giving children clear and helpful messages about their bodies, about issues of sexuality appropriate for their age, and about dangers they may face.

Children have a natural and healthy interest in their bodies. Only when they are told that certain feelings or activities are bad do they learn to attach shame to them. The confusing messages of most societies given about our bodies leave young children confused and more vulnerable. Why can something people say is bad actually feel good? Why can’t I touch myself in certain places? Why do adults get embarrassed when I ask them certain questions?

Healthy sex education is critical for helping prevent sexual abuse and for increasing the chances of reporting if abuse occurs. With such a healthy attitude toward sex, children can learn to make decisions about what is truly right and wrong. They can develop the vocabulary to talk to responsible adults. They can feel less shame if they have been abused. To accomplish this requires education of teachers, of health care professionals and of parents.

Classroom Activities for Teachers

Talking Sexual Health (in pdf)
from the Australia National Council on Aids, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases ANCAHRD

AIDS Prevention

How to Teach about AIDS

To develop effective school-based preventive education programmes:

  • Integrate HIV-related issues into education about reproductive health, life skills, substance use and other important health issues
  • Ensure prevention and health programmes not only teach young people the biomedical aspects of reproductive health but also how to cope with the increasing complex demands of relationships, based on life-skills approaches.
  • Begin prevention and health programmes at the earliest possible age and certainly before sexual activity.
  • Extend prevention and health programmes to the whole educational setting, including students, teachers and other school personnel, parents ; the community around the school, as well as the school system.


Personalize the information. For AIDS education to be effective it has to do more than simply teach biological facts. Good programmes acknowledge the social and psychological barriers to prevention in a teenager's world. Educators must recognise not only that students may be pressured into sex by peers but also that openly admitting to sexual activity or the lack of it, can be humiliating for some young people.

Classroom role-playing that creates realistic scenes of teenage life can be especially useful. For example, students might act out a scene in which a boy enters a drug store to buy condoms for the first time. Another skit might involve a girl who chooses to end a relationship in which her partner refuses to use a condom or have an HIV test. Role-plays like these provide students with "scripts" they can use in their own social settings.

Another teaching technique encourages adolescents to make decisions about hypothetical sex-related situations and then makes them "live with" those decisions later on. In one such classroom game, a young man who decides to have casual sex in the first round of the game may have a child to care for by the sixth round, limiting his options about college or travel. This helps young people see how spur-of-the-moment decisions can affect their futures.

Promote healthy attitudes toward sexuality. Effective AIDS education encourages students to think of their sexuality in a healthy, guilt-free way. Explicit talk about arousal, desire, and sexual activities that don't transmit HIV-- such as genital touching-- is essential. Abstinence, the best way to avoid HIV infection, should be part of the curriculum, but simply advocating abstinence is not enough. The discussion should be free of moralistic overtones that imply that it is always wrong to have sex.

Related Online Resources

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Last revised December, 2001
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