Nalini (name changed) came to Tejus Home when she was 5 months pregnant. She was 14 years old, and the family who was from a neighboring state (Tamil Nadu) had settled in Kerala a long while ago.
Two years earlier Nalini had been sexually abused by her brother-in-law, had reported this to the local police and then been moved to an institution for girls who had been sexually abused as the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) felt she was not safe at home. Nalini was very unhappy in this place, and when she was given permission to go home during the school summer vacation she persuaded her parents to let her be at home and not go back to the institution!
An elder sister of Nalini’s who was married and living in Tamil Nadu suggested that Nalini go and live with her and her family. While living there Nalini began working in a local shop rather than go to school. It was while she was working there that she met Aryan (name changed), a 21-year-old odd job man. They fell in love and decided to get married – though the legal age for marriage for a girl in India is 18 years.
Nalini moved in with her husband and was happy as his wife – Aryan was loving and considerate. When she became pregnant, Nalini decided to come back to Kerala to be with her parents. At this time, a local school teacher reported to the police that a 14-year-old pregnant girl was living in the neighborhood. The police investigated the matter, and Nalini was again brought to the CWC – this time as a pregnant, abused teenager (according to the Indian law, the age of consent for a sexual relationship is 18 years, so legally Aryan was guilty of sexual abuse of a minor girl).
Nalini was then moved to Tejus Home. She was angry and upset when she came to us – largely because the police brought her to the Home under false pretenses – saying they were taking Nalini back to her mother. She had her first meal of the day (after nearly 6 hours) at Tejus Home, and realized that the Home was a safe place to be in, with two other pregnant teenagers, and caring staff.
Nalini proved to be something of a live wire – constantly chattering to people, enjoying board games (once she got the hang of them!) and keeping busy in the kitchen – cutting vegetables and preparing meals as well.
It was when she went into labor that Nalini threw us all into a difficult situation. She “froze” during the process of labor, and had to be shifted to a hospital when the staff at the natural birthing center realized she could not be managed there. However, Nalini delivered naturally as soon as she reached the hospital, giving birth to a beautiful little girl. After three days in the hospital Nalini came back to Tejus Home with her baby – whom she had decided to keep as she planned to be with Aryan once she turned 18. She proved to be a good mother, though she had to be taught to burp the baby after a feed and encouraged to talk to her baby.
Three months later Nalini and her baby were moved back to the district she had come from. It was an emotional leave-taking, for both Nalini and the other girls and staff in Tejus Home. Nalini was reluctant to go back to the institution she had been in earlier, but on reaching there discovered that the staff had changed, and the new staff was kind and considerate.
Nalini has thrown up several questions to us:
- Why was her labor so traumatic, when the sexual relationship was apparently a consensual one?
The most likely answer is that Nalini had no knowledge of sexual intercourse, and consent in a relationship was never something she had learned or thought about. So while she loved Aryan, a sexual relationship was something she was possibly unprepared for.
Interestingly, following a session on contraceptives, Nalini said she wanted to use a contraceptive as she did not want to get pregnant until her first baby was 5 years old.
- The second question is Nalini’s future – the staff in the present institution has said she will be going back to school to complete her education. But we need to see if this happens, and how far Nalini can progress in her academic life.
- And finally, the question of family support. During her entire stay at Tejus Home her parents came to visit Nalini just once. Phone calls were infrequent, and the parents would offer various reasons for not calling and not visiting. Aryan is an unknown entity to us, and we only have Nalini’s version of his being a kind and loving person, who will take good care of his wife and child.
Though these questions stay with us, we know that Nalini enjoyed being at Tejus Home – before she left she told the staff that the absence of her parents was more than made up by the space that Tejus Home provided. And she has promised to visit someday.