Gaining access to higher education is a challenge for many girls in Penthakotta, an immigrant community in India, with 8th grade the highest available. In order to continue their education beyond that, the children have to move to another town where they either temporarily live with their relatives or share rooms in hostels. However, unlike boys, the girls are discouraged from moving far away from home, having to end their education and start working at a young age.
Jamuna, 15, is the eldest daughter of a poor family in Penthakotta and had to take care of her younger siblings - a brother and a sister - since she was very young. Jamuna’s father is a boat labourer who is often working at sea for months. Jamuna’s mother works at local hotels, cleaning. Like many other girls, Jamuna ended her education at 8th grade and when she turned thirteen, her mother convinced a hotel owner to let her work as a hotel maid, even though it was illegal.
The reality for many young girls from this community is that they experience a lot of social pressures and are often forced to work instead of continuing their education. They are often sheltered from the world and remain uninformed about current affairs that might affect them and therefore become vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
One day in 2015, Jamuna started her work at the hotel as usual - cleaning rooms. In one room where two men were staying, she was invited in to carry out her tasks but while she was cleaning the bathroom, one of the men stepped in and started talking to her in Hindi. She felt uncomfortable and tried to make an excuse to leave, but the other man closed and locked the room door.
The other man took off some of his clothes, took some money from his pocket and convinced her to have sex with both of them. Both men started using abusive language against her and Jamuna was so terrified that she started to cry. Harnessing her courage, Jamuna pushed one of the men away with all her strength and ran toward the door, successfully escaped from the room and headed home in tears.
When she arrived, her mother had not returned from work and Jamuna lay on the floor of the tiny hut crying. When her mother arrived, Jamuna found the courage to share her painful story. Her mother was furious and went to complain at the hotel but unfortunately, the two men had already left. The mother and daughter were convinced by the hotel manager not to file a complaint to the police as Jamuna was an under-aged worker and also because the incident would bring shame to her family.
Children who experience exploitation and abuse often face serious psychological impacts and their lives are completely turned upside down. The trauma, lack of psychological safety and social stigma they experience often prevent them from being a part of the community and they become isolated. To respond to the needs of the victims and vulnerable children, in line with its ‘Provision’ strategy, Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ programmes provide direct support to children with education and therapeutic services, to help them establish safety, share their story and begin to rebuild their life.
Six months after the incident, TdH Netherlands’ Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism and Online (PSECTTO) programme staff made contact with Jamuna. Until that time, she and her family had remained silent about what happened, fearing the consequences of speaking out. Her parents also believed it would be the best to arrange a marriage for Jamuna, to avoid gossip about what had happened to her.
As a result of the programme, Jamuna received a series of counselling sessions from PSECTTO staff to help her recover from the trauma, which helped her to gradually rebuild her self-confidence and self-value. The staff also convinced her parents to not go ahead with the arranged marriage. Her parents were relieved to receive support from the programme and agreed to re-enroll Jamuna to higher education in another town.
Along with other child victims, Jamuna started school in the nearby town, supported by volunteers from the programme team, who accompanied the children and stayed there for a few days to ensure that the children were safe and comfortable in their new environment. The children were also provided with school materials and to this day keep in close contact with the programme staff for continuous support.
It is really a blessing on me that I could restart my education.
She added that “for the last one year, I was in a deep depression due to what had happened to me. My parents didn’t allow me to go to school, instead, they were arranging a marriage for me. Now I can go back to school and I will work hard to become a teacher in the future.”
Research and experience tell us that victims of abuse and exploitation face many challenges in their lives - but also have potential for recovery and with the right support, can become resilient, achieving their potential with dignity. By helping Jamuna and her family, the programme staff helped her feel safe and secure, share her story without fear of being judged and shamed - and have enabled her to reconnect with life and to begin to work to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher. TdH Netherlands is privileged to have played a part in supporting Jamuna and is grateful for your continued support, enabling us to help her and many more children across the globe.