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Mar 24, 2014

Prajwala on the Frontlines of Child Protection

Children Celebrating Holi Festival of Colors 2014!
Children Celebrating Holi Festival of Colors 2014!

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.

New Year 2014 -- Annual Day Celebration!
New Year 2014 -- Annual Day Celebration!


Dec 27, 2013

Transforming Lives to End Sexual Exploitation

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.

Sep 27, 2013

Holistic Education and Family Restoration

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.


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