I am Aditya Vasanti and I was brought up in SOS Children’s Village, Pune. I lost my parents at the age of four years – and I still don’t know who I am. Although I know that I am someone’s child, I still don’t have any identity.
Luckily, I found the SOS Children’s Village to be a family where I could have protection and find a new identity to survive in the mainstream society. Through their care and support, I have built my personality and become a responsible citizen of this country.
I have done my graduation and post-graduation in social work education. During this period, I travelled to many places and saw the situation of children in residential child-care set ups – especially in government-run children homes. It was really worse than what I had imagined. Children were put in these institutions as though they were in prison. Since childhood, they hadn’t been traced by/told about their families – and suddenly, after they reached 18 years of age, they were forced to leave the facility.
After coming out of the institution, there is no support system for these adolescents in the larger society. Most of them don’t even have a legal proof stating the community the person belongs to. And it is here that the problems start – with many youths getting trapped in social evils (like human trafficking, sex trade), crimes and addictions.
Further, the system no longer supports them, now that they have crossed the age of 18 years. Neither does the government implement policies or programmes to protect these youths from malpractices, nor is the community or society ready to provide shelter, support and consider them as a fellow human being.
Recently, I met Priya (name changed). She is an orphan, suffers from disabilities and has received education only till class four. While talking with me, she told me that the organisation in Pune that was supposed to take care of her transferred her to another organisation in Mumbai, due to her violent behaviour. However, in the new organisation she was lonely and very bad because she was treated badly by the organisation’s staff.
After she reached 18, the organisation forced her to leave. She came back to Pune to get back into the previous organisation. The sad part is that no one supported her or helped her build her confidence. Consequently, she started to look for jobs.
But again, things took a turn for the worse. The owner of the shop in Pune, where she found employment, trapped her in a sex racket – and she was abused and beaten up. However, within that racket, a man promised to marry her. She even gave birth to three girls, without the man even marrying her. When Priya realised that she was trapped, it was too late.
When she gathered enough courage to ask the man for support, he beat her up and threw her on the streets in the slums of Pune. Nobody came to front to protect her, even though she was completely helpless with her daughters. Initially, she begged to fill her stomach. However, one of her old ‘customers’ came and gave her some easy money. Even though this was risky, she accepted the money and started to satisfy her customer.
However, she kept her daughters in a children’s home where they get safety and basic facilities. And now, her daughters are growing up and they get a decent education with scholarships. But here again, there’s an ugly obstacle. The system has asked Priya’s daughters to produce their father’s detail, whereas the girls are not even aware of the status of their parents.
And now, Priya herself needs guidance and support on how to produce the required legal documents – when she doesn’t even have a legal identity, not to mention the lack of education and a supportive system. My question is: how will Priya become a citizen of this nation and who will help her become one? How will she get all the kindness and dignity she deserves?
I think there is not just one ‘Priya’ in India. There are many like her who have been facing various problems due to lack of care and protection (by the system) and acceptance (by the society).
Image used for representative purposes only