By Swapna Majumdar
Sunday, August 1, 2010
In one of India's booming red-light districts a child-welfare group is helping the children of sex workers find a way out. In five years the group has helped place 388 children in formal schools and kept 80 percent of them on track.
In addition to offering formal education the center provides social and psychological therapy through painting, theater and games.
It also provides pre-vocational training on making paper bags, cards, candles and pottery painting. Some of the products manufactured by the children have been sent to Life and Leaf, a fair-trade center in Darjeeling, for sale. If sales pick up, the plan is to start manufacturing on a large scale and use the proceeds to support the children's education and medical care.
The community-based teachers are also trained in psycho-social care to help them identify problems faced by the children and take necessary action.
The center is open from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., matching the typical working hours of sex workers. The center--housed in a building owned by a brothel operator--offers a safe haven for a child who would otherwise not have a parent's supervision. It also runs morning shifts for children living in nearby slums who are also vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.
But it hasn't always run this smoothly, considering the sensitivity of the issue, say staffers.
"At first it was quite difficult to persuade and convince [the sex workers] that we were there to help them," said outreach worker Laxmi Turi. "In fact, their response did bring down our morale a bit. But we didn't give up. We were determined to succeed and encouraged them to think of giving their daughters a better future."
Bapi Devnath has been a teacher at the center from the start. Five years ago he said the children treated staffers with grave suspicion, but then the children began to blossom.
"Children of sex workers want love and attention. If we give them attention and encourage them through kind words, they become transformed," he said.
The program keeps the children's parents closely involved by holding regular meetings for them with teachers to discuss their children's academic needs and progress. Many parents make financial contributions to the school, which is more than given back to them through the center's aid in the form of school fees, educational materials and uniforms.
The project also provides leadership training, including a "watch group" of adolescent peer educators who spread community awareness about the dangers of early marriage, early motherhood, trafficking, prostitution, HIV and AIDS, child abuse and violence.
Kamla, 17, a watch group member, is also the president of children's parliament at the center.
"I owe everything to CINI," she told Women's eNews. "I have faced a lot of problems and want to help other girls in similar situations. It will be difficult. But I will not give up or accept defeat. I want to become something in my life."
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Swapna Majumdar is a journalist based in New Delhi, India, and writes on development, gender and politics.
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