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Children Empowerment of the Devadasi System

In socio-economically disadvantaged Devadasi communities from North Karnataka, harmful norms force adolescent girls into sexual exploitation. We fight for the rights of these girls and enrol them in schools. We provide them opportunities for alternative means of livelihood and teach them to speak up against injustice.

In North Karnataka, India, children from disadvantaged Devadasi communities are vulnerable to sexual exploitation

Thangam Ponpandi

Country Manager India


Historically, the Devadasi practice involved young girls being consecrated as performing artists in temples. With time, exploitation seeped into this system in a few socio-economically vulnerable communities where the girls forced into sexual exploitation. In these Devadasi communities, the practice of dedicating a child as a Devadasi continues where harmful norms perpetrate their role as sex workers in society. These dedication ceremonies are done in secret. Children from this community face violence, abuse and even those not dedicated face a lot of stigma and hardship.

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. Dedication means dropping out of school and becoming isolated. The girls are mistreated 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, leading to health complications.

Sexual and gender-based violence

The Devadasi System in lower caste communities exploits young girls and women in the name of harmful 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 fate. 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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