Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India

by DIL SE
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Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India
Medical care for abused, pregnant girls in India

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.

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Baby born to one of our girls on July 18th
Baby born to one of our girls on July 18th

Since our last update in May, no more girls have come to Tejus Home but we’ve had time to take good care of the 3 who were still with us.

All three have given birth but one of them finally decided to give her baby for adoption. The girl we’ll call Nithiya and this is her story:

Nithiya was 14 when she came to Tejus Home. Insisting that her pregnancy was following a consensual relationship (even though children below the age of 18 cannot legally give consent), she wanted to keep her baby. Her parents were not enthusiastic about this at all and did not want her back home with a baby. Nithiya is a very good student and wants to be a doctor so she started thinking about placing her child in a children’s home until the end of her studies. We discouraged her from choosing this option as it would not be fair on the child to grow up in a children’s home not knowing whether one day he/she would in fact re-join his/her mother. Just before her delivery, she chose, with a heavy heart, to relinquish her child.

Her Catholic-run school no longer wanted her back stating that she had brought a bad reputation to them already. The Muslim neighbourhood in which she lived was also very negative towards her and her family so they moved house.

Nithiya started in her new school but didn’t like it. “They are not disciplined enough, she would not be able to study there.” So one evening she went to the local police station and filed a complaint – “the school she wished to study in would not accept her because of the pending case of child sexual abuse of which she was the victim.” The police contacted the Child Welfare Committee and they called the school and insisted that they take her back. They had to agree and she started school there yesterday.

I don’t know how her day went but I can only imagine the stares and whispers aimed at her. The strength of this girl is amazing, she knows what she wants and will do her best to get it.

Two weeks old
Two weeks old
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Our therapist with one of our babies
Our therapist with one of our babies

This was the first time that we had had five girls who wanted to keep their babies.

Two of the teenagers, Sathi and Chandana, were placed with us by the CWC (Child Welfare Committees) a few months ago, even though both had had consensual relationships. Consensual means nothing when you are a minor. As per POCSO, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, Act, one cannot consent below the age of 18. They were in love, they had a sexual relationship with their partner and they became pregnant. 

Sathi gave birth on March 1st to a gorgeous baby girl and Chandana to a little boy on April 11th. We were thrilled that both gave birth naturally with our partner midwives at Birthvillage. After having come back to Tejus Home the day after delivery, the girls had regular visits by the midwives or nurses to check on the general health and well-being of mother and baby and were coached in new-born care and breastfeeding. Both mothers and babies were bonding nicely and it was a real pleasure to witness. We had decided to rent the extra building next door to give a space to mothers and their new-borns and it turned out to be a perfect solution. We also gained the extra space to hang out washable nappies cut out of white sheets gifted to us by Five * Hotels!

Chandana had her 18th birthday on May 3rd and therefore was able to decide for herself to leave Tejus Home and go back to her parents’ home and hopefully soon enough, marry the father of her baby.

Sathi however, will only turn 18 after a year and therefore is still under the protection of the CWC. She will soon move into another children’s home with her baby until the CWC considers it safe enough for them to go back home.   

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Sathi (name changed) is a 17 year old girl who has been in Tejus Home for the last month. She belongs to a tribal community and the family shifted from their native state of Andhra Pradesh to Kerala many years ago. The family – especially the children – speaks fluent Malayalam.

Sathi has a 20 year old sister who is married and has a child; 3 younger sisters and 2 younger brothers. Her mother got married at the age of 14 and the parents are both employed as rock breakers for construction sites.

As the parents needed to be away from home for work, all the children were placed in child care institutions for their care and education, with the parents visiting them when they could. Sathi was taken home about three years ago, to help care for her elder sister who was pregnant. Her schooling came to an end at this time – and she had completed grade 9.

While at home, Sathi fell in love with her first cousin – a young man of 23 who works as a driver. Although their respective families had no objections to their wanting to marry, the young couple eloped from home in April last year and “got married” at a temple in another district. Three months later they decided to return home, when Sathi suspected she may be pregnant.

A jealous relative went and reported to the police that Sathi was married before the legal age of 18 years. A case was registered by the police under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and also against Sathi’s “husband” under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The girl was temporarily placed in an institution for women in her home district of Trichur, and then transferred to the Government Girls’ Home at Ernakulam. From here she was moved to the Nirbhaya Home (set up for victims of child sexual abuse).

Sathi had – by this time – done a home pregnancy test which confirmed she was pregnant. She spoke about this only to her mother, who told the staff of the Nirbhaya Home. When the pregnancy was also confirmed by the staff of the institution, Sathi was transferred to Tejus Home.

Sathi had two questions of us – what had she (and her “husband”) done wrong; and why was she in an institution when her mother was willing to take care of her?  Her first question was fairly easy to answer – that according to Indian law a girl has to be 18 years before she can marry, and the legal age of consent (for both boys and girls) is also 18 years. Her second question was more difficult to answer – that though her mother said she would take care of her, family finances would probably need her to go to work for a large part of the day. The Child Welfare Committee also had reports that both of Sathi’s parents were alcoholic, and had poor parenting skills. And finally – that if she was at any place other than at Tejus Home she would most likely have her baby through a C-section as it is generally taken for granted that a teenager would not be able to have a natural childbirth. At the age of 17 it is difficult to accept cold logic – and Sathi is now counting the days when she can go back home with her baby. However, she is happy at Tejus Home, enjoys the friendship of another 17 year old who is also in the Home; cooks meals, exercises and follows the instructions of the midwife to ensure she has a natural delivery.

Sathi confessed that her childhood ambition was to be a nurse – and the therapist is encouraging her to explore the possibilities of translating this dream into reality.

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Left hand = Past, Right hand = Future
Left hand = Past, Right hand = Future

How lucky our girls are to have the maternal health care that they do!

Women come from all over India and abroad to give birth at Birthvillage, Kochi and this is the place that our Tejus Home girls get to deliver. Having given birth there myself...I know what I'm talking about.

In comparison to hospitals here in India, Birthvillage makes you feel so lovingly "at home". It's soft lighting and homely atmosphere, it's gentle colours and discreet staff give the girls a space in which to birth with honour and with respect. They are given time, explanations, choices. By being allowed to give birth naturally, these teens are being given back the control over their own bodies...and the power it gives them is huge.

Our most recent case, was a 15 year old girl, made pregnant by her own father. Her regular visits with the midwives, weekly counseling and art therapy, allowed her to stay focussed on the task at hand...keeping herself and the baby healthy until the delivery. Three weeks before her estimated due date, she started feeling contractions. Within less than two hours, she delivered a healthy baby boy...the fastest and easiest birth so far from one of our girls. She relinquished her son for adoption and she remained at Tejus Home for 6 weeks after the delivery before moving on to a girls' hostel to continue her studies. 

Thus far Tejus Home (Dil Se and Birth For Change) has looked after and ensured safe childbirth for 44 teenagers. 

We thank you for your continued support.

Using Arts Based Therapy to understand safe places
Using Arts Based Therapy to understand safe places
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Organization Information

DIL SE

Location: Kochi, Kerala - India
Website:
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DIL SE
Cristelle Hart Singh
Project Leader:
Cristelle Hart Singh
Kochi, Kerala India

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