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Interview With Chairperson Of Child Welfare Committee On Issues Affecting The Girl Child

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Prerana is one of the pioneers of anti-trafficking initiatives in India, actively working in this domain for nearly 3 decades. We work with child rights and child protection in Mumbai and nearby districts of Maharashtra.

Recently, we met with some stakeholders who work with the child protection system to understand their experiences of working with girl children. Mr Milind Bhidwai, Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) (Mumbai City), shared his observations from his field experiences spanning over 2 decades.

Azra Qaisar (AQ): How long have you been in the field of child rights?

Milind Bhidwai (MB): I have been working in the field of child rights for over 24 years now. I work with Salam Balak Trust, and also serve as the Chairperson for the Child Welfare Committee (Mumbai City).

(AQ): What are three issues that you feel are affecting girls the most in India today?

(MB): I think child sexual abuse, early or child marriage, and lack of educational opportunities are some of the gravest issues girls face right now. We receive many cases of runaway children, sexual abuse and child marriage.

In many cases, the parents are involved in the violence or abuse faced by the child. In child marriage cases, the girls often share that their parents are forcing them to get married against their will. 

Girl Child
Up to 2·5 million more girls around the world are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(AQ): We have come across reports of an increase in cases of child marriages during the lockdown. What is your perspective on this issue?

(MB): There has been an increase in the cases of child marriage amid the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Parents feel that they can just call immediate family and get the girl married without anyone knowing. In some cases, if the girl has been sexually violated, they are being married off to the perpetrator as a form of “settlement” without anyone knowing.

(AQ): How do you think we can do better to prevent sexual violence faced by girls?

(MB): Awareness would be the first step to prevention, but the awareness has to reach far off and rural areas as well. We get many cases where the victim is a native of Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc. From my experience as CWC, I have understood that the awareness has to reach all parts of the country to be effective.

I also believe we need to help girls understand that their body is their own. They must know that no matter who it is, family or relatives, no one has the right to exploit or abuse them. Awareness has to reach both the child as well as the family.

(AQ): Do you think there is a need for greater sensitivity among stakeholders working with girls?

(MB): We have had experiences where the authorities in child care institutions have discouraged girls from sharing details of the abuse or violence, telling them that if they want to be “released early”, they must not reveal everything. We take due cognisance of such matters and address them. There is a need for more sensitivity to the nature of the violence faced by the child as well, and not affect due procedures.

(AQ): How can we ensure that children are aware of their rights?

(MB): I strongly believe that children must be taught about their rights as a part of their education in schools. This way, the teacher and the student would be aware of the way the child is supposed to be treated. We have received cases in the past from reports by teachers where they feel that a child in their school needs help. We have also had a case where a teacher was abusing the child. 

If we cannot introduce this as a subject, maybe sessions or workshops can be organised in schools to introduce child rights. Since the POCSO Act has been introduced, through many workshops, we have observed that many boys are also reporting cases of sexual violence that they may not have earlier. Awareness at all levels is necessary for prevention.

(AQ): Who are some of the women that you admire?

(MB): I admire the many women who actively work in the field to ensure the furthering of child rights. Ms Priti Patkar, Ms Alpa Vora, Ms Zarine Gupta and many others I work with inspire me to work effectively. We look up to them to lead the way in many cases. I firmly believe that collective work and collaboration between organisations is necessary to further child rights. We have to work together to ensure that the rights of all children are protected.  

By Azra Qaisar

Note: This blog was first published here. For more such stories, check our anti-trafficking centre’s blog to know more about human trafficking and child rights in India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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