Archives For India

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I recently spent some days in Mumbai with our team there who are working to establish what will be a critical collaborative voice to help combat child sexual abuse (CSA)  in India.

Aarambh will be in first order a National Resource Centre on child sex abuse and, at the same time, will have the capacity to access legal and other support for victims, as well as provide training to communities, relevant government bodies and NGOs on the topic. The Resource Centre, which will gather education materials, promote awareness and best practice, is scheduled for launch in November.

Aarambh is a joint initiative of the ADM Capital Foundation and Mumbai partner, Prerana, which for two decades has provided support to the children of sex workers and is led by Priti Patkar, who is a respected authority in the field.

We are extremely excited to have Prerana as our partner in building Aarambh in a country where a 2007 government-sponsored study that included 12,500 interviews with children in 13 Indian states said 53 percent reported having been sexually abused in some way. Only three percent of the cases were reported to the police.

Last year, a Human Rights Watch report said the government’s response to CSA has fallen short, both in protecting children and in treating victims.  At the time the HRW report was released, Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said in a statement: “Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff and other authorities.”

The government did not dispute HRW charges that India’s child protection system was flawed. The head of one government agency was quoted as saying at a news briefing that frequently police or court officials didn’t accept that rape or incest had occurred.

Besides Prerana’s deep knowledge of CSA in India, Aarambh builds on ADMCF’s long partnership with Philippines-based Stairway Foundation, which has produced excellent training materials and animated films on such topics as incest, trafficking and sexual abuse more generally.

ADMCF helped Stairway foundation translate the films and other materials into several Thai languages and facilitated trainings of NGOs and other groups there before turning most recently to India, where education, discussion and action on the topic is equally critical. The moment for change seems particularly right given India’s two-year old law on CSA known by the acronym POCSO. There exists confusion related to how to implement that law nationwide.

Uma Subramanian, who has led ADMCF in India over the past few years, is leading Aarambh with Prerana. She is building a team and the network of partners that will form the initiative. Indeed, the vision for Aarambh is that it is a collaborative effort, bringing together organizations working on the topic of child sex abuse from many perspectives, beginning with the Mumbai Child Safety Network.

In terms of helping to implement the law, for example, there ought to be specific medical units within hospitals set up to receive children who have been victims of abuse. There also needs to be training and special provision within the courts and police force nationally. At the same time, there will be space to comment on aspects of the law to make sure it functions effectively to protect children.

Some of this work is ongoing regionally, but the Aarambh National Resource Centre hopefully will help to spread best practice throughout the country.

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The following post was written by Uma Subramanian,  ADMCF’s India program manager, in response to the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi. Her blog can be read here: http://umasubramanian.wordpress.com

We Indian women have been groped, fondled, touched, pushed, teased, pinched and raped. Some of us raped literally and some raped through eyes, comments and gestures. Each one of us has faced this since puberty, some were unlucky to face it even before, some in their homes, some in schools and most of us on the streets.

Since my teenage years, my parents, like most parents in India, told me, “The outside world is bad, so be careful.” We were told to hold our bags to cover our breasts, we were not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts, or short skirts that might attract the attention of men, no fitted tops and no make up. The world around us was BAD, we were told.

And their fear was justified: In India a woman is raped every 4 seconds. Whenever we read about a rape case the implication was that the woman had been careless: She wore a tight skirt, she went out too late, she was with a man and therefore must be a prostitute. Never was the rapist blamed. This is part of our consciousness and learning since childhood and part of the reason the terrible problem persists.

Instead, we have taught our girls to protect themselves with martial arts, told them to carry chili powder to throw in the eyes of an attacker. We have covered them in multiple layers of clothes and taught them to use an umbrella for protection. Never have we thought to look at this issue from another perspective, we, each one of us, have blindly accepted that the world around us is BAD.

But our collective failure to speak out, to act against men who rape, has led once again to tragedy, this time in Delhi. There, in mid-December, a 23-year-old medical student was brutally raped on a chartered bus over many hours and then discarded  on the streets of the national capital. Six psychotic men raped her, beat her and threw her away thinking they could do so with impunity. Nothing protected her – her multiple layers of clothes, the lessons from her parents, the six police check points which she passed as she was being raped, or her male friend – everything failed this woman.

As terrible as this was, hundreds of women are raped in India every day, some in marriages, some on the streets, but this tragedy has finally sparked the consciousness of our nation of 1 billion. Finally, we speak in one voice – WE NEED TO RESPECT WOMEN IN INDIA. Delhi students and angry women have braved tear gas, water cannons and lathi to protest against the men who thought they could use the young woman for their pleasure, to demand their punishment.

But I wonder, would the sense of national tragedy, the reaction, be the same if the girl, were wearing a short dress when she was picked up by the bus joyriders, if her male companion were a boyfriend, or if they were returning from a nightclub?

I believe this case has grabbed national attention because the girl was SPOTLESS according to the huge moral brigade of India. She was a medical student, wearing Indian dress, it was 9:30 pm (not so late), she went to a movie with a friend and she was returning home. She ticked all the boxes of the ideal Indian woman.

But would the brutality have been any less if this girl were a model or a dancer, wearing a short skirt? We need to use this moment also to analyze our own prejudices when it comes to rape. Don’t we all have biases against women who are MODERN in India? We ignore women who are raped in villages. We turn a blind eye to the thousands of Dalit women who raped by upper caste men.

Although the young woman’s horror represents a terrible loss for her family and the nation, let us hope that her life is not wasted, that our national mourning has finally brought gender inequality and gender-based violence to the forefront. For the first time, there is conversation about teaching boys to respect women, to control their urges.  People are advocating for stringent and swift punishment for rapists. The blame is finally shifting from the victims to the offenders.

This incident has also given hope to the thousands of women who are still struggling for justice after being raped. The not-so-popular Women’s Movement in India has stepped forward.

Hopefully, the national introspection will help diminish the stigma around rape and reporting rape. Bollywood, the media and our repressive society have exaggerated the social stigma attached to reporting an attack and this also needs to change.

Time has come for us as a country to think deeply about the way we see girls and the way we treat them. We worship women as goddesses but label them as whores if they dress differently. We kill girls in the womb, preferring boys, and rape them once they are born.

We need collectively to work to change both the legal and cultural frameworks of this country simultaneously and justice needs to be delivered to victims in a timely manner.

Lets not forget that men are also victims of our socialization. Lets educate our younger generation about sex and sexuality; let’s not teach them what our parents taught us.

We must sensitize our police, politicians, judiciary and media. In our Bollywood films, lets stop portraying women as objects and glorifying men who tease women.

The 23-year-old young girl died of multiple organ failure, from the failure of her country and all of us to protect her. Each one of us is responsible for not speaking out.

The only way we can pay tribute to her terrible sacrifice is to ensure that no other women experience the same, to speak out against violence, to act against violence.

The time has come for us to make this country a safe place for women.

 

 

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Always the challenge for an organization working with marginalized children in Asia is how to really alter an existing imbalance – for example to provide education or skills to working children otherwise deprived of learning and a childhood in a way that will make a meaningful difference to their futures.

It is not so complicated to establish an educational program or direct children into government schools – when these exist or there are places. There is real desire among those for whom education is not a given, to live the dream and to learn.

But even when education can be made a reality, it is often not enough to just put children in school, or sit them in front of a blackboard and teacher for a few hours a day. There are so many factors that act against the instinct to learn: lack of food or safe drinking water, cold weather when children don’t have enough clothing, hot weather when they must learn outside or in rooms without windows, absence of sanitation and healthcare, little support from parents, and family pressure to work, among them.

In India, where, along with support from a UK-based partner, ADMCF has been working with a local organization to encourage children out of what is often hazardous work and back to school, the challenges for learners are myriad.

The NGO works with marginalized urban populations in the worst conditions imaginable. The problem remains: can it offer education without thinking about nutrition, healthcare, encouraging family support (not financial) and expect permanent results in the children’s lives? Can we expect, particularly in the most challenging communities that access to education alone will lead to a better future?

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This has been particularly true in the wake of India’s well-intentioned Right to Education Act, which determined in August 2009 much as the name suggests that all Indian children should be in school from 6-14.

This meant that our partner organization, which had established drop-in centres as way stations between work and school, was forced to rethink how it worked with children who had never attended school or had dropped out years previously.

Instead, after a brief transition, all children had to be quickly enrolled in government school, whether they were ready or not. They no longer had the luxury of longer preparation in a safer environment ahead of enrollment.

This was tricky enough in major urban areas, where there were schools and places and children could be supported in after-school programs in the same centres. But in the poorest urban slums in India that are home to significant Dalit or untouchable populations (many migrants from rural areas), there are often no government school options – despite the fact that according to official statistics, 96.6 per cent of children in India ages 6 to 14 are now enrolled.

IMG_5184If there are schools, there are no places. If there are places, the classes are massively overcrowded or there is discrimination against Dalits. If there is no discrimination, the teachers don’t show up for class. In any case, for the poorest children, there frequently is little learning to be had in official schools.

Enter our partner NGO, which provides that stepping stone to education but faces the many questions above. They now must mainstream their primary and secondary school children into schools that don’t exist, or where they don’t learn. Their own centres must not be schools. So what is the learning path?

For a child with enough money there is a proliferation of private schools stepping into the lacunae created by failing government education. But how does an education NGO step in to provide support to ALL marginalized children, not just the brightest, how does it make sure that all children it contacts receive the education to which they are entitled under Indian law yet can’t access?

Then, at the same time, how does an organization in a country as vast as India, where marginalized children are easily discarded by law and society, provide the conditions for learning given limited resources and India’s education act?

Clearly, there should be more provisions made to support education for India’s poorest children, particularly in a country that traditionally has placed such value on learning.