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!