India: girls forced into sex work in the name of religion

In 2016, as a result from Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ combating sexual exploitation of children programme in India, at least 38 parents from eight villages decided not to include their young girls in Devadasi system and allow them to go back to school.


Sexual exploitation

Servant of God

The Devadasi system is an old Hindu tradition in parts of southern India whereby parents dedicate a daughter to a life of sex work for upper-caste community members in the name of religion. In a ceremony that is very similar to a wedding the girl is ‘dedicated to the God’. The ceremony usually take places before the girl reaches puberty and requires the girl to become a prostitute. After the ceremony the girls, they are forbidden to enter into a real marriage. In earlier days after the ceremony, the girls spent their life living in a temple, but nowadays they live at home with their family.

The Devadasi practice has turned into a profit-making business for many poor families. A fee is charged from the men having sex with the Devadasi girls, and the money is often used to feed the girl’s family and support younger siblings to go to school instead.

Improving the lives of the victims

Our programme in India works with vulnerable children who are likely to be dedicated to the sex work in Devadasi system. Through awareness campaigns, the young girls are empowered and learn about their rights to education.

Our local partner also works closely with the Devadasi mothers, these mothers of the young girls were also ‘dedicated to the God’, to break the chain. The mothers learn that the system is a violation of children’s rights, that has legal consequences, as this ritual practice is in fact illegal according to the law of Karnataka state.

At a higher level, our partner advocates for the rights of the Devadasi women and girls at the government level to make sure these Devadasi women and girls get support, and to improve the monitoring mechanism to end this practice in rural villages across the country.

Pressuring the government

A research was conducted by Karnataka State Women’s University with our local partners’ support resurveying the number of Devadasi women and girls and documenting the situation and welfare of them in seven districts of Karnataka State. The university counted about 80.000 girls and women. In June 2017, the research’s findings were presented to the Ministry of Women and Child Development of India.

After hearing the research’s findings, and interacting with the Devadasi women and their children, the Minister for the Women and Child Development made a plea to take the following actions:

  1. Land from the government supporting schemes will be provided to 45 newly registered Devadasi women and their children.
  2. Houses reserved for Devadasi women and their children in all housing schemes at the village and district level.
  3. Resurvey and identify the unregistered Devadasi women and girls so that they receive  access to the benefits such as monthly pension, housing, subsidies for economic development activities.
  4. A proposal will be submitted to the government bodies to allocate free accommodation for the children of Devadasi women at all levels of education.

 Learn more about our work to stop sexual exploitation of children in Asia >>


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