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Children Empowerment of the Devadasi System

In lower caste Devadasi communities from North Karnataka, post pubertal girls are dedicated to a life of sex work as part of a societal practice. We fight for the rights of these girls and enrol them in schools. We provide them opportunities for alternative means of livelihood and train them to speak up against injustice.

In de provincie Noord-Karnataka in India worden jonge meisjes uit de Devadasi-gemeenschap gedwongen tot prostitutie

Thangam Ponpandi

Country Manager India


Devadasi is the name of an ancient tradition found in South India. Traditionally, parents give away one or more daughters in the name of their religion to spend the rest of their lives in the service of a temple. The initiation ceremony of these girls into the temple is similar to a wedding party.

It is estimated that there are about 80,000 Devadasi women in North Karnataka, twenty percent of whom are under the age of 18. In many cases, the girls are even younger than 14 years old when they enter the system. As soon as the exploitation has started, the girls need to drop out of school and become isolated. They are also often treated badly by the men who exploit them. They run all kinds of risks, for example contracting STDs such as HIV, or ending up with an unwanted pregnancy.

Sexual and gender-based violence

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. Generations of women in the same family undergo these challenges: the daughter of a mother in the Devadasi-system often faces the same faith. Due to a lack of vocational skills, education, and alternative livelihood opportunities, they are highly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Hence, they remain socio-economically oppressed.


We combat child sexual exploitation in the Devadasi community through child participation and provision of services that make the empowerment of children possible.

Download the 'Tales of girlpower'


With the GOOD project, Terre des Hommes Netherlands works in five districts in 51 villages in North Karnataka to protect children against sexual exploitation. What we do:

  • We host the girls in children's clubs, where we educate them about their rights and support them to fight for change.
  • We make sure they can go back to school.
  • We train them in job oriented vocational skills so that they can develop alternative livelihoods.
  • Within the community we create awareness about the harmful effects of the Devadasi system.
  • We advocate for changes at policy level.
  • We set up child protection committees in the communities.


The results we achieved in 2022 include the following:

  • 3,105 girls were taken care of in our children's clubs, 330 of them learned how to set up a research by themselves.
  • 250 girls were supported with school fees, materials and uniforms; 23 girls were re-enrolled in school; and 266 girls were supported with their secondary school final exams.
  • 115 girls followed vocational training and 79 women received support in starting their own business.
  • About 2,500 people from the communities, including temple priests, have been sensitised on the harm caused by the Devadasi system.
  • 20 meetings took place with the (local) government to discuss the policies and enactment.
  • 135 people have been trained and 3 committees have been set up to guarantee the protection of children.

The publication 'Tales of Girl Power!' bundles stories about the success and impact of building the resilience of girls in the Devadasi system.


Children of India Foundation (CIF)
AMMA Foundation
Chaitanya Mahila Sangha
Muktha Network

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