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Saved by her peers from a life of sex work

November 1st, 2022
Saved by her peers from a life of sex work

In India, the Devadasi System in lower caste communities exploits young girls and women in the name of tradition. After a ceremony, they are deemed to a life of sex work. The children and young girls from the community are isolated, face stigma, and drop out from school. Due to a lack of vocational skills, education, and alternate livelihood opportunities, they are highly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Generations of women in the same family undergo these challenges.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ GOOD project (Getting Out Of the Devadasi system) supports girls from these socio-economically vulnerable families and organises them into Children’s Clubs or Kishori Groups. In these groups, girls are taught about child rights, child right protection, when and how to make reports, life coping skills and advocacy. 

In the village of Yalagur, in the southern state of Karnataka, 15-year-old Lekha suddenly stopped showing up to the Kishori Club’s meetings. Her peers were immediately concerned because they were aware of what was going on in Lekha’s family: due to a lack of income and education, her alcoholic brothers and mother were forcing her to drop out of school and into doing sex work. 

On 21 May 21 2022, after Lekha’s continued absence, the children’s group and project staff decided to call Childline (National Helpline – 1098) and reported Lekha’s case. Then, on 29 May 2022, officials and local government officers (along with project staff and the other girls from the Kishori club) visited Lekha’s house and warned her mother and brothers. They demanded a written statement in which they agreed not to force Lekha into the Devadasi system. The statement also said that they would continue to send her to school. Afterwards, both Lekha and her family received counselling.

Lekha is now attending Kishori club meetings again on a regular basis, and she is learning more about her rights and how to protect herself. Regular home visits are being conducted to check on Lekha’s wellbeing and the way her family members treat her. Lekha’s school attendance is also being monitored. 

Thanks to her peers, Lekha is now able to study and pursue her dreams. She was saved from a life of forced prostitution. “I am relieved that I don’t have to be dedicated as a Devadasi. I am so grateful that I can continue my studies. A few months ago, I was almost about to end my life, but now I see hope. My mother and brothers have also stopped troubling me,” expressed Lekha. She feels proud of her Kishori club for standing up for her and officially reporting her case. 

“I feel happy and safe for the support provided by the GOOD staff and Childline. I want to study well and become a teacher so that I can save the children from the Devadasi System through education”. 

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