Teenaged girls transforming attitudes in India

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

Soni Khatoon is an Indian teenager with a life story similar to thousands of other girls in Kolkata and across the country. Khatoon dropped out of school five years ago. In West Bengal alone, says the Indian Ministry of Labour and Employment, hundreds of thousands of children between the ages of five and 14 are victims of extreme poverty and do not attend school. Many children are orphans who must work to stay alive. Countless girls are married at very young ages so that their poverty-stricken families can rid themselves of another mouth to feed, and may profit from the marriage. In other cases, when families move to huge urban sprawls like Kolkata from rural villages in search of work, children find it hard to access decent schools. They may, for example, have to travel long distances on foot through the streets. Many don’t have enough transport money or money to cover school expenses. Yet Khatoon cares deeply about education – so much so that at the age of nine, six years ago, she got herself back into school and founded the Shaktimaan organisation. Every day after school, she and her friends go door to door in a slum called “EJC Basti” in Kolkata, to talk to families about why their sisters and daughters are not in school. Shaktimaan is a popular Indian TV comic superhero and, says Khatoon, “Education is a key to empowerment.” “Shakti” means strength or energy. Khatoon was influenced to get involved in her cause because she remembered accessing mobile learning centre on buses run by Save the Children. She realised then the power of connecting directly with children. Khatoon’s group Shaktimaan is just one of more than 100 child-driven civil society groups that have taken it upon themselves to get girls back into school. International aid organisation Save the Children estimates that groups like Shaktimaan have persuaded more than 2 300 children to return to school and saved another 1 200 from illegal and dangerous factory jobs in the recent past. Shaktimaan succeeds by first documenting findings in each household, and then getting adults, such as those working for Save the Children, involved. They will press parents to enrol their children in schools. Said a Save the Children representative: “It is truly inspiring to see more children coming forward to create a society where children’s voices are heard, respected and followed,” she says.

Category: Winter 2018

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