A new child-led survey is documenting the types of violence children and caregivers in the State of Maharashtra western India are exposed to in order to better inform child protection strategies. By bringing children together the initiative is encouraging children, especially girls, to break a culture of silence around talking about violence.
Conversations around violence and discrimination against women and children in India are a taboo and any mention of abuse or discrimination is usually met with hushed silence.
“I don’t talk about these issues in our village, not even in my family. I only mention such issues to my close friends in the confines of my classroom,” said Yogita Vaman Dhanvai, a 16-year-old student in Jalna District in Maharashtra State, western India.
Yogita, whose alcoholic father used to beat up her mother, said that girls need an environment where they can continue to study without the risk of violence, early child marriage or being harassed on their way to and from school.
“I want to make change. I want speak up against violence and create awareness that girls need to be given equal opportunities. Why are girls treated differently? The discrimination starts right from the womb until death,” Yogita exclaimed.
Yogita is one of 5,000 children and adolescents aged 13-17 who shared their experiences of violence in the ‘Play it Safe’ survey. The survey is being conducted by the Nine is Mine Campaign and the Mumbai Smiles Foundation, supported by UNICEF.
The survey also collected the opinions of people in close contact with children and who are responsible for their welfare, such as government officials, school authorities, Child Welfare Committees and members of the Juvenile Justice Board.
Yogita participated in the survey and has been discussing issues around violence against girls with her friends Nanda Krishna and Koman Siddhartha. They are hoping that the findings will raise community awareness around the impact of violence on children, and about girls’ need for safe spaces.
Nanda said her first challenge is to make her family understand that she should continue her studies and not get married early.
“I am determined to change my fate. I don’t want to be married off at an early age. My eldest sister is supporting me. Before my father died he told me to study,” said Nanda who wants to become a doctor.
A gold medallist in karate, Komal said she fears harassment and violence perpetrated by men when she is not in school.
“I am scared of facing violence while going and coming back from school. Even though I know karate, I would not be able to do anything if men harassed me,” said Komal.
Participating in the survey has further encouraged Komal to take action to empower girls and to work towards changing attitudes and behaviours in her village.
“When I go home during the holidays I see girls younger than me married,” says Komal. “I have heard of men leaving their wives if they give birth to girls and of women killing female infants fearing backlash from their husband.”
“I want to be armed with education so that I can do something about these issues” says Komal.“I hope that the survey results will be given out to all…and that they will they will help change the attitude of men towards girls in our village so that they start treating women as equals.”