Girl power: Protecting each other in tough times
Coronavirus lockdown in India has had devastating effects on already vulnerable children.
Here – speaking just two months into the lockdown – World Vision India’s Sandip Bhowmick, (pictured below), talks about the issues and local Girl Power groups.
Through these groups, formed to empower and protect girls with life skills and personal safety training, brave young girls have been saving their friends from child marriage.
“Instances have gone up and vulnerability has increased.”
“Already, families were finding it difficult to provide three meals to their children. A complete stop to income and loss of livelihood for these daily wagers has brought great stress to the families.
“During this lockdown, in this block, we already stopped nine child marriages and two cases of child sexual abuse. The youngest case of child marriage was that of a fourteen-year-old girl from a poor family. However, our active community group members informed us, and that is how we stopped many marriages before they were solemnised.”
Girl Power in action
“Our first source of information is Girl Power groups, Men Care groups, Village Child Protection Committees and volunteers in different villages. They’re able to identify potential cases of child abuse and child marriage – and are aware of the vulnerable families and girls at imminent risk of trafficking in the village. When anything happens, they call us and let us know.
“In one case, we got to know from a Girl Power group volunteer that a girl from one village was to get married to a boy from another village. I went to the village to find out more. On the way, we got information that the couple were getting married in another village. But on reaching that village, the couple fled the scene.
“When we visited the relatives’ home and the police questioned the family about the marriage, they denied it. But they could not explain the boy and girls prolonged absence."
Earlier this year, 18-year-old Tabassum* was saved from traffickers thanks to her local Girl Power group. (*name changed)
“After waiting for a few hours, we realised that the situation was getting tense. We had to assure people that we were there to support them and not cause any harm. We were there because we got information about a child marriage. All we had to do was check the documents of both the girl and the boy to see if they were of the legal age. Finally, the village head asked the parents to get the documents.
“It was clear that it was a case of child marriage. We had to stand firm and tell the family about the penalties they could expect if the children were married.
“In two other cases, where the girls were 14 and 17 years old, we arrived just minutes before the marriage was solemnised.
“Some cases are resolved quickly. However in some cases, we may need to take a girl to a shelter when there are greater risks involved. We have to find the best resolution for the child, depending on the situation."
“If there’s a child in distress, we have to respond”
“There are always risks in what we do. [But] at the end of the day, whether there is a lockdown or not, if there is a child in distress we have to respond. I feel it is my duty to answer such calls.”
Sandip delivering supplies to vulnerable families during COVID-19
During the first few weeks of lockdown, Girl Power groups and other community members identified vulnerable families. With their help, Sandip was able to personally oversee the distribution of rations to 149 children who were at imminent risk of trafficking and 59 survivors of sex trafficking.
Debu Patra, who works with one of the communities in the area says that:
"Through these groups, our girls have learnt how to fight for their freedom and their rights. Whenever any incident happens with a child in the community, they immediately inform us. Childline has also observed high reporting of cases where World Vision has formed these girl power groups.
“These groups are instrumental in giving accurate and timely information to help stop child marriage or trafficking in the community.’’
Thanks to our supporters, World Vision child protection projects work with girls – and boys – around the world to empower them to know their rights and understand how they can respect and support each other. We also work with those who have, sadly, already experienced abuse and exploitation, helping them to overcome their past and face a brighter, safer future.
The actions of Girl Power members demonstrate the ripple effect of empowerment; helping and protecting themselves and others – especially in trying times. And, with your help, the network of strong girls and women will continue to grow.