Terre des Hommes logo
DonateFight with us

Fight with us

Become a donorAs a partnerDonate your goods

Bhargavi fights against exploitation with peer support

September 20th, 2023

Belonging to a disadvantaged Devadasi community, 18-year-old Bhargavi is highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. She was being forced to drop out of school and get married as her family's economic condition couldn't support her education. Her fiance's innappropriate behaviour was also making her uncomfortable. She decided to take action.

Bhargavi finds strength in the Children's Club
Bhargavi finds strength in the Children's Club

Bhargavi is 18 years old and lives in Karnataka, India. She grew up in a disadvantaged Devadasi family where young girls and women are forced into a life of sex work as part of a harmful traditional practice. Bhargavi’s mother had to go through this at a very young age, although she presently works as a day labourer – which means she has no regular source of income. 

With this socioeconomic background, the risk of Bhargavi herself being forced into a life of sex work was already very high. When she was 15, Bhargavi had to drop out of school: the family’s economic situation had reached a severe dip, and her mother couldn’t afford to take care of her education anymore.

When she was 17, Bhargavi's mother found her a boy. Prior to their wedding, the boy began to visit her everyday and demanded a sexual relationship, believing that it was his right as Bhargavi was from a Devadasi community. This made Bhargavi extremely uncomfortable as she believed her rights were being violated. She desperately wished she could support her mother financially instead of having to get married, but she couldn’t convince anybody in her family. 

Gathering peer support

Under our Children Empowerment for GOOD (Getting Out of the Devadasi System) project, girls from socio-economically vulnerable Devadasi families are organised into Children’s Clubs or Kishori Groups. In these groups, girls are taught about child rights, reporting mechanisms, life coping skills and advocacy. 

Bhargavi had been part of the Kishori club even before her marriage was fixed with the boy, so she new that her rights were being violated. She shared her situation with her friends and the project staff later in the year during a Kishori meeting. Her peers along with the project staff, informed the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO) in the Panchayat, other block-level officers like the Anganwadi workers and the Child Development Officer. 

The officials and the Children’s Club leaders then visited Bhargavi’s house, effectively stopped the marriage and reported the fiancé’s misbehaviour. In addition, a signed written statement was taken from Bhargavi’s mother in which she agreed to not marry her daughter before she is at least 18 years old.

After care

Afterwards, as Bhargavi was still distressed, the team organised counselling sessions to provide her psychosocial support. Her mother and brothers were also counselled and sensitised about the ill-effects of child marriage. 

Bhargavi continues to attend Kishori club meetings on a regular basis; she learns about her rights and how to protect herself. She is also being oriented on life coping skills and advocacy. Regular home visits are being conducted by the team to check on Bhargavi’s well-being and the family situation. Counselling sessions are also still taking place. 

Bhargavi will be enrolled for vocational training, so she can learn how to tailor and earn an alternative income to support her family. This will also diminish the risk of her being exploited later in the future, as she will be financially independent. She is looking forward to the tailoring course. 

Bhargavi was saved from a life of forced marriage: she is free and ready to learn new things. She feels proud of her Kishori club for standing up for her and officially reporting her case. “I am relieved that I don’t have to get married before I’m 18. I am so grateful that I can learn tailoring with GOOD support. A few months ago, I almost lost confidence about my life, but now I see hope,” Bhargavi said. “I want to learn tailoring and I want to teach other children what I have learnt. I want to earn as a tailor and support my family. I will get married only after I’m professionally settled” she added. 

Our missionWhat we doWhere we workSearch
DonateFight with us