Aspate of crimes that have swept the nation, especially our booming metropolitan cities, show that it doesn't matter if a child is well-fed and or comes from a well-to-do, protected family—it can still be susceptible to abuse in places normally considered safe. It gets much worse, for orphans, street children and those in less protected environments.
While physical abuse is what we see the most, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. India has seen many cases of child abuse, sexual harassment, human trafficking, etc. It may surprise many readers to learn that Bengaluru, known as India’s Silocon Valley, accounted for 26.76% of all child rapes reported in 2013. More than 2,000 school-going children have been sexually abused in Bengaluru. According to Bangalore City Police, 34 cases of rape were reported in 2013, 38 in 2014, and 47 in 2015.
This is where Swakshatra comes in. Swakshatra aims to ensure safety of children as a prerequisite for enforcement of basic child rights and equal opportunities. This, in turn, will serve as the right platform for empowerment. Clearly, it is going to be a long journey.
Swakshatra’s founders are women who were former officers with the Indian army, concerned citizens and experts from the development sector. Major Bhavana Chiranjay retired in 2008 after a nine-year stint with the corps of engineers (Madras Sappers). Captain Smitha Naidu was a regulatory officer with the Indian army.
Dr Sridevi Vadakoot, a PhD in applied biology, has worked with the world’s largest contract research organisation (CRO) for over a decade. Prevention of any form of abuse in children is something close to her heart. This is the core team at Swakshatra.
The day-to-day activities at Swakshatra include: conducting awareness workshops for children, educators and parents and organising awareness workshops for women on personal safety and gender-based violence. Swakshatra works at addressing child safety issues holistically in the following ways:
a) establishing brief stay shelters for children at risk; b) rescue and rehabilitation; c) working to prevent exploitation of children (abuse, labour, trafficking and neglect); d) facilitating basic child rights to include right to education and right to quality healthcare; and e) policy advocacy aimed at ensuring effective implementation of child rights.
At the advocacy level, Swakshatra’s aim is to generate awareness among all segments of the society of child sexual abuse and gender-based violence, to bring about a change in the way society perceives and responds to the safety needs of women and children.
Its most important project, at present, is to establish brief stay shelters for children at risk (girls from 6 to 16 years of age) at Bengaluru to house 12 children, in the first phase, and up to 25 girls, in the second phase. The shelters will have facilities for trauma care, counselling, medical care, legal support, rehabilitation and re-integration. These will live up to the true meaning of Swakshatra which, in Sanskrit means innately strong.
You can be a part of Swakshatra’s mission by volunteering with the organisation to conduct workshops on awareness about child abuse, making a donation in cash or kind to support its activities, or by sponsoring a child’s education after rehabilitation at a safe home. Interestingly, Swakshatra’s founders work closely with, and are a part of, Home to Society another Bengaluru-based NGO that seeks to bring about a paradigm shift in women’s empowerment by imparting training in self-defence, self-protection and emergency response skills, etc.
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