Two students from the Mekong Delta province of Ca Mau have created a series of games designed to help young children protect themselves against sexual assault.
Bui Phuong Vy and Bui Quoc Khanh, both 11th graders at Luu Huu Phuoc High School in O Mon District, Ca Mau Province, refuse to sit back and watch as reports of sexual abuse against minors continue to grab headlines in Vietnam.
But while authorities attempt to tackle the perpetrators of child sexual abuse in high profile through legal prosecution, Vy and Khanh are attempting to address the issue through a different approach – providing children with the skills they to protect themselves in the presence of a predator.
An attractive game for children
“Children’s Safety 2.0’” is a series of games designed by Vy and Khanh to help children aged three to ten practice skills that could help them ward off adult attackers.
The series offers children learning opportunities through card games, puzzles, a book, a coloring book, and a smartphone application, all of which are meant to teach children what kinds of contact with adults are and aren’t appropriate, as well as the importance of talking to parents about inappropriate or abusive encounters with adults.
“In order to grab kids’ attention, we designed the game with lots of colors and added many photo illustrations,” Vy said. “The questions are all simple, short, and easy to understand.”
According to Vy, younger children can play the game with help from their parents or grandparents, but students in grade two and older should practice the activities on their own.
“That way children remember the skills they need to protect themselves and can practice reacting to unexpected situations,” she explained.
Of course, the activities each have their own learning curve.
“Intelligence Cards”, for example, is a Q&A game in the collection that often trips up children when they first play, but after a few tries players are able to pick up on the best ways to deal with abusive situations.
With practice, children who use “Children’s Safety 2.0” not only walk away with the skills to handle several specific types of encounters, but also a logical understanding of how to improvise in situations that may not be included the activities.
The coloring book created by Vy and Khanh helps distinguish good and bad actions by letting them add specific colors to certain situation while the “Smart puzzle” lets children piece together a picture of family members, bad actors, and children reacting to dangerous situations.
‘Adults are allowed to do that’
Vy and Khanh are both open about how much support they’ve received from teachers in their school, especially Huynh Nghia Trung, their Mathematics and Computer Science teacher, as well as their research project instructor.
To create Children’s Safety 2.0, the duo spent six months researching, surveying children, and designing the activities, with the bulk of the work done on weekends.
While Vy mainly worked on the questions and content of the games, Khanh was responsible for the design of the cards, books, and mobile app.
For their research, the two surveyed 132 children, aged three to ten, in direct interviews, during which they asked the children questions regarding their abilities to deal with unwanted situations.
The survey showed that most children do not have necessary skills to deal with sexual abuse, and do not know what to do when being attacked.
For instance, the question "If someone touches your bottom, what should you do?" had 52 “I don’t know” responses. Forty-five children said they wouldn’t do anything because “adults are allowed to do that,” and only 25 children chose "shout and run home."
Vy and Khanh also studied what children want and like in order to make their games attractive to the young players.
The games were also designed in a way that parents can also play with their children and learn the skills with them, as many parents also are unsure of how their children should handle sensitive situations.
Vy and Khanh’s project earned them second prize at this year’s national science - technology competition for students in southern Vietnam.
“For us, the most valuable reward is our set of games being useful to those who need it, and providing children with skills to avoid sexual assault,” Vy said.
The two students also sought feedback from 45 parents whose children tried their games, and 70 percent of the surveyed said they were pleased with the product.
“I find this game collection very useful because it helps children learn the skills needed to protect themselves from being inappropriately touched,” Nguyen Thi Truc Phuong, a mother living in O Mon District, said.
“There are cases when parents want to teach children these things but don’t know how to do it effectively.”
Even the children understand the importance of such skills.
“I used to only know little about sexual assault and how to avoid it, but since I started playing this game, I know a lot more,” Nguyen Anh Thu, a fourth grader at a elementary school in O Mon, said, adding that the colorful illustrations make the information easier to remember.