Fifteen-year-old Sravanthi from the village of Ambatpally in Telangana, India grew up seeing girls being discriminated against.
This apparent gender inequality birthed a restlessness in Sravanthi which moved her to work for equal rights and opportunities for girls. This encouraged her to begin her journey with Terre des Hommes Netherlands.
Under TdH-NL's Girls Advocacy Alliance project, I was a Youth Advocate, and this gave me an in-depth understanding of the issues girls face. Not only did I learn about the problem, but also ways to tackle them ”, she said.
Sravanthi believes that the root cause of child exploitation is the lack of access and importance given to education, and girls experience these issues worse than boys. The dents in the rural infrastructure system also contributes to this issue.
“In my village, there are no government schools that are fully functional. To go to school, children have to travel long distances by bus. These barriers add to the reasons why many girls drop out. ”, She said.
Sravani with her team of Youth Advocates began addressing this issue by identifying children at risk of early marriage and explaining to their parents the importance of education. Real life examples were shared on the significance of education to girls' future where they are able to take their families out of poverty and despair.
When COVID-19 struck, things got more difficult for Sravanthi. The nationwide imposed lockdown and subsequent closure of schools posed a huge threat for young girls in Sravanthi's surrounding area.
“In nearby villages, the rate of child marriages increased because schools were shut. After class 10, girls around the age of fifteen were being married off, ”she said.
Sravanthi and her team of Youth Advocates got together, visited those villages and identified the girls and their families.
“When our counseling efforts failed, we warned the families of notifying law enforcement agencies and explained to them the severe legal consequences of their actions once reported,” she said.
Once the authorities were notified, the marriages were stopped. But Sravanthi still feels that there is a long way to go.
“I would like to change the traditional and backward mindset of the people,” she said. “I will continue to focus on reducing dropout rates as that will reduce child marriages and other related issues”, she added.
In her quest to bring gender equality, Sravathi has also fought for the education of boys. Recollecting one of her proudest achievements, she said, “Once I noticed a boy roam about randomly. After talking to him, I found out that he had no father and his mother had a mental health condition. With only his grandmother to take care of him, he dropped out of school early. He expressed his interest to continue his studies and was well versed in early primary education concepts. We Youth Advocates called up ChildLine and informed them about this boy. The next time we visited this boy's house, we learned that he was back in school! ”
Sravanthi continues to joyfully work as a Youth Advocate and is proud to be associated with a movement that shares her values.