Priya: A Typical Case Study.
Priya is 13 years old and studies in Grade 7. She is the brightest girl in her rural village school. She has two siblings. In Priya’s case she has both parents but for many of our girls they come from single parent homes.
Poor people in the villages are most helpless when it comes to matters around employment. This is because many of them are either fully or semi illiterate. Normally they are unskilled and cannot fit in to any type of job opportunity which may be available in nearby towns and cities. All they know is how to till the field by using 1000-year old traditional tools – a pair of oxen.
The tragic part of this is that wealthy city people have bought most of the land and cultivation plots surrounding the villages. They then use the local villagers as cheap labour taking away half of the crops from the harvest. The landlords give their farm land on lease and lend the money with high interest rates. If the crop fails then poor men are forever enslaved as the debt increases from the interest.
The result of this is slavery, with many villagers silently bearing the pain of bonded-slavery from a debt that in many cases was inherited from their grandparents or even great-grandparents. If farmers are not able to secure loans from banks then who can they go to? Money lenders are generally the big landlords in most villages. The rate of interest charged can be as high as 40-50% per annum. Only in lenient cases can it be 30% or so. Farmers depend mostly on rain to water their crops. Irrigation is uncommon. So any change in rain patterns can lead to a crop being destroyed due to either a surplus or a scarcity of rain.
Priya’s parents are humble farmers. They possess neither land nor oxen. So they live by borrowing everything required to plough their leased land. Because of this more than half of their hard earned crops will end up in the landowners storehouse.
There is no other source of income that they can depend upon. They are looking after their three children (including two adolescent girls) as best as they can. Priya’s mother is desperately looking for a way out for her children because there is insufficient money and food for them all. What worries us most about this situation is that “outside people” can take advantage. Single crop failures mean that some of our girls have had to discontinue their education. It can mean too that there is the potential for others to be sent to the big city (Kolkata) as domestic workers, in to unsafe employment or unspecified work. This is where many poor young girls receive abuse and are kept in isolation from the outside community. Sex trafficking is rife. Many run away and end up on the street.
An Indian/Burmese family are leading our work and are living in with a group of girls. Currently they are coordinating the commencement of the construction of a two-storey safe house for the children. Their girls are extremely at-risk to being trafficked into the brothels of Kolkata. Both academic and trade training will be taught so that the girls can have a viable way to support their families so that they may avoid the possibility of being sold into the sex trade.
Of course it would be preferable to keep the girls living within their family structure but unfortunately because of stark employment prospects for rural girls/women and a prevailing culture of selling ones child, sister or wife into the sex industry, we feel that it is better for the girls to live within a safe house. This decision of course must be made alongside and in consultation with both the girls themselves and their guardians.