In Prajwala’s shelter home, child victims of rape, incest, sexual exploitation and trafficking are given the opportunity to regain their lost childhoods, restore their shattered innocence and renew their sense of joy and zeal for what life has to offer. The 91 children in Prajwala’s shelter home are like one big family, caring for one another while professionally-trained staff members provide much-needed love and support that many of these children missed while growing up. The multifaceted psychological, physical, and educational needs of the children are addressed in a sensitive and holistic way to ensure their current and future well-being.
The cases of children which Prajwala’s Support Through Education Program (STEP) has been dealing with amount to the most horrific and atrocious human rights violations. In an unspeakable tragedy, one 4 year old girl who was sleeping in a train station with her mother was abducted by a drunken man who took her to a park where he raped her. Her anus was so torn, her intestine so ruptured that she now has constant uncontrollable bowel movements; the multiple surgeries she has undergone have been unable to repair the damage. Another 5 year old child was tied up, sexually tortured by her neighbor who burnt her genitals. One cannot even imagine the suffering, pain and torture that these children experience.
It is the eternal mission and commitment of Prajwala to ensure that child victims have access to rehabilitation, safety and protection from any and all harm. The organization also recognizes that receiving justice is of utmost significance. Thus all children in the shelter home are produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), and letters of recommendation are submitted on their behalf to the district Collector as well as Superintendent of Police so that they can be granted financial compensation from the Women and Child Welfare department as well as court magistrates as per stipulations in Protection of Children against Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act.
Based on Prajwala’s determination to provide dignified and sustainable opportunities for children who have experienced the worst kind of exploitation, there have been many successes over the past 3 months which everyone in the shelter has celebrated. To begin, there were 6 children admitted in to the home this period. All child survivors enrolled in mainstream schools received 100% pass marks on their annual exams! One student in intermediate 1st year obtained District 2nd rank and another studying in government school got 1st place out of all students in 10th class! The children also greatly enjoyed exposure trips Lumbini Park and Public Gardens.
In terms of advocacy efforts to advance the anti-trafficking cause, in a landmark judgment based on the recommendations of Prajwala, the Honorable High Court of Andhra Pradesh has directed the State Government to arrange video conferencing facilities to record evidence of sex-trafficked victims. The District Legal Services Authority of each district has been directed to hold this facility in their premises. In addition, in collaboration with legal services, Prajwala filed 1 Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme court and 3 PIL in different states on rape redressal system, national anti-trafficking law, protection services and victim protection protocol.
Based on the generous contributions of supporters and well-wishers, Prajwala has been able to make an impact not only on the lives of hundreds of victimized and exploited children, but has also promoted substantial changes in the judicial and legal systems of state and national governments to combat human trafficking in all of its dimensions. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who have stood by us in solidarity as we break the culture of silence and create a zero tolerance against this crime. Together, we can continue to ignite the flame of hope to bring light to those in despairing circumstances and work towards creating a world free of modern-day slavery.
Child sexual abuse is an endemic crime that destroys the lives of millions worldwide. In January 2014, Prajwala began a new intervention called the Support Through Education Program (STEP) which provides immediate assistance to girls below 18 years who have been subjected to sexual violence such as rape, gang-rape, incest and sex trafficking. Based on cases reported in the media, STEP locates these victims through police stations and invites them to join Prajwala’s therapeutic shelter home, where they are provided long-term rehabilitation, medical treatment, legal aid, nutritious diet, and quality education to ensure safe custody, psychological recovery and a bright future.
A recent case that STEP has dealt with was a 15 year old girl named Kalpana from Mahaboobnagar District (Andhra Pradesh), whose mother expired when she was just a baby and whose father is physically handicapped. For many years, she was engaged in agriculture work and was the sole breadwinner of her family. One day, a man from the village asked a mutual friend for Kalpana’s number, and he started to call frequently to speak with her. Then one evening, he invited her to his room, where she was sexually abused in the presence of two other men who then proceeded to rape her. After 7 months when signs of pregnancy began to show, her relatives filed a complaint against the accused. After reading her case online and searching for her, STEP produced Kalpana under the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and admitted her into Prajwala’s shelter.
The tragedy is, although Kalpana was very happy to join in the organization, when staff invited her father and relatives to visit on weekends (as well as for the baby’s delivery), they flatly refused any further contact. Instead they announced, “We cannot care for her anymore; she is yours” and left—never to look back. This lack of empathy, understanding or acceptance is faced by so many child victims, who are blamed for their circumstances, shamed for “dishonoring” their community, and denied social support at a time of heartbreakingly critical need.
When a victim of child sexual abuse is alone, isolated, and confused; pregnant, disowned by family, without anywhere to turn... what would happen to her, without an intervention like STEP? One can only imagine the poverty, malnourishment and option-less situation that an uneducated and rejected child like Kalpana would have to face. Without any help, girls in her position are often compelled to enter the depraved world of begging or worse—the exploitation of the flesh trade—just to survive. Prajwala’s STEP is a way for child victims to begin the journey towards healing, self-empowerment, and independence. It is a model that needs to be scaled and replicated nationally, so that girls like Kalpana—who experienced severe physical violations which shattered their innocence at a tender and vulnerable age—can have a childhood full and joy, in a loving and supportive community. So far, STEP has reached out to 13 victims of sexual violence, who are now living in safe custody in the shelter home (along with 78 additional children who are residing there).
Furthermore, on the advocacy front Prajwala has successfully lobbied for the establishment of One Stop Rape Crises Center in Hyderabad. The Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh accepted in principle Prajwala’s proposal to establish an exclusive state department to combat trafficking, and the Government of Kerala agreed to Dr. Sunitha Krishnan’s proposal to set up a sex offender’s register. Over 6,000 Rotarians pledged their support to make counter trafficking efforts as their thrust area. On the recommendation of Dr Sunitha Krishnan, the Ministry of North East is setting up a 24-hour National Hotline as a first response center for any person from North East who perceives any risk in another state.
Prajwala's rehabilitative shelter continues to transform the lives of hundreds of adult and child victims of sex trafficking. In our adult home (known as Asha Nikethan), from October to December 2013 there were 54 new admissions of women who were rescued from forced prostitution and referred to the shelter through court order. These victims not only received comprehensive healthcare services, nutritional diet and access to life skills training, but also were provided trauma care and group therapy to help them heal psychologically and emotionally from their painful experiences. The peer counseling program, in which survivors are recruited as "Sakhis" (friends) to provide support to their fellow residents and enhance internal monitoring within the shelter, has proven to be immensely successful. In addition to healing arts practices such as Chekka Bajana and Kollatam dance classes, a new music therapy program in the form of drum beat sessions was initiated to re-connect the women with their inner spiritual rhythm and foster group harmony. Furthermore, in Prajwala's new life-skills center, 90 victims participated in a 25-day jewelry making training course and are in the process of being placed at different venues throughout the country as salespersons, product designers and other roles. Thanks to Prajwala's efforts, 10 victims also received Rs. 10,000/- immediate relief funds from the state government, which will help each of them start a new life that is in no way associated with the flesh trade.
In our children's home (called Astha Nivas), in addition to medical services and treatment for HIV positive victims, all 70 girls are excelling in their education and preparing to mainstream into society. Two of the girls who were rescued from trafficking as children and referred to Prajwala over 10 years ago, recently graduated from intermediate and were admitted into pharmacy and law colleges, where they have completed their half-yearly exams. They are demonstrating that regardless of difficult past circumstances, with hard work and determination even those who were most marginalized and rejected can achieve their dreams. The success of these children has inspired leaders and prominent individuals from India and abroad to replicate and scale Prajwala's anti-trafficking initiatives. For example, over 11 visitors came to the home including representatives from Leger Foundation, OLM, Sanlaap Organization, Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society and the AP state government to learn about our pioneering interventions. Prajwala also makes the effort to restore happy childhoods to children who experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence, by celebrating all national holidays, religious festivals and special occasions through performances, ceremonies and cultural events which are planned and organized by the children themselves. This quarter Ayudapu pooja, Saraswathi pooja, Vijaya Dasami, Bakreed, Moharam and Diwali were celebrated with exuberant joy.
This holiday season we wish to thank with deepest gratitude all of Prajwala's supporters, who have made it possible for children and women in the therapeutic community to gain safety, protection and access to essential services which help them gain a new lease on life, and create their own destiny free of exploitation or oppression. Thank you for your generosity, for believing in our mission to empower and uplift the most vulnerable, and for extending your precious support towards our efforts to end modern day slavery.
At Prajwala’s shelter home, 68 girls who are survivors of rape, sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence are given the opportunity to receive a holistic, value-based education that takes both formal learning as well as psychosocial healing into account. The children attend the Astha Nivas residential transition school located on the campus premises where they study all state-required syllabus subjects until 5th class. Meditation, yoga and physical exercise are integrated into the school’s daily schedule to help the children to overcome the trauma which they have experienced. The transformation in the child is very vivid and the children develop positive self esteem and confidence which is reflected in their overall performance in academic and extracurricular activities.
After they pass 5th class, the children are sent to mainstream government schools for 6th-10th class during the day where they interact with students from local villages and townships. Older girls enroll in intermediate courses as well as colleges and universities according to their interests and aptitudes. A significant attitudinal change is visible in the girls when they take admission into formal schools. The child with very low self esteem becomes very confident and stable, with the assurance that her life is saved and she can live with dignity in the society. Through this education they are equipped with the necessary scholastic, interpersonal and professional skills to ensure a bright future—thus enabling them to break the shackles of their oppressive past and dream as high as the sky.
During the past three months, the Astha Nivas children have given the shelter many reasons to celebrate. Not only did 100% of students pass their annual exams with flying colors, but three of the youngest girls got first rank! The 10th class examination results for mainstream students revealed that four girls passed with good percentage while one received 8 GPA. Furthermore, two intermediate 2nd year girls wrote EAMCET exam and also one appeared for NEET exam. All three girls were qualified and got ranks, while another got a sear in GLAND Institute of Pharmacy. To add to this plethora of successes, one of Prajwala’s mainstream students attended her college’s Annual Day program and to everyone’s joy she received first prize in the Biology, Physics & Chemistry (Bi.P.C) group. Her college awarded her a trophy and certificate for her accomplishment!
In addition to these achievements, Prajwala’s Rescue and Restoration team strove to trace out one Astha child’s home after she had been at the shelter for 9 years with no contact with her family (as she had been separated from them at a young age). The house was extremely difficult to trace because the city of Hyderabad had changed so much over the past decade and many familiar landmarks had disappeared. For several days the child was unable to identify the direction of the house in L.B. Nagar area. Finally the team decided to divide into two groups and asked everyone in the neighborhoods if they recognized the family name of the child, but no one knew because the child had changed her original name. After tireless searching the team finally found her family and they broke down in tears when they saw her. They were incredibly thankful to Prajwala for restoring their dearest daughter!
In the area of civic rehabilitation, Prajwala’s efforts to provide all minor victims with government welfare benefits have also yielded fruitful results. Field staff met and followed-up with the district’s civil supply officer requesting him to provide ration cards and Aadhar cards according to G.O.Ms 1. As a result, 22 Astha Nivas children and 23 survivor staff working in the shelter took their photographs for the cards after supplying bank book pass Xerox, current electricity bill and PAN card. The age certificate was also received from Gazetted and in a single day all of the children were able to possess an official form of identity proof, which is essential for their futures as they continue their studies and higher education.
The past three months have been an exciting time for all the child and women survivors living in Prajwala's rehabilitative shelter home. In April 2013, only did 100% of 7th class students pass their final exams in First Division, but three were double promoted to 10th class! This is an extraordinary achievement given that these children have faced unimaginable adversities in their lives which they have slowly overcome with strength and resilience. Prajwala has inculcated the value and importance of education so that the next generation becomes self-reliant and successful in the perusal of their dreams, which are finally becoming a reality!
In addition to these landmarks, Prajwala has developed a new program in the shelter home called "Sakhi" (meaning friend), in which adult survivors are selected through an assessment process to be responsible for the supervision of 25-30 of their fellow residents as part of a peer-based support system. The Sakhis are employed as Prajwala staff and help the home coordinators care for the needs and well-being of newly rescued victims, including barefoot counseling and case management. The result has been an astounding 100% participation of all victims in the home activities and immediate crisis response regarding any issues within the therapeutic community. One survivor who completed the Sakhi training and was socially reintegrated with her family left the organization in tears, saying "Promise me one thing: That I can always return to Prajwala."
Below are some additional highlights worth celebrating:
On the political and legal advocacy front, in June 2013 Prajwala's Chief Functionary Dr. Sunitha Krishnan conducted sensitization trainings for 98 judges from 8 districts of Andhra Pradesh's Telangana Region. During this month she also addressed a gathering of over 6,000 youth in Pune to discuss issues regarding anti-trafficking and sexual violence, and was appointed Vice Chair of the reconstituted AP Women's Commission! As indicated by these path-breaking steps, Prajwala has covered many miles in its journey, yet has millions more left to travel. The commitment of our partners, supporters and volunteers is what reinforces the impact of our mission, and for this we are eternally grateful.
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