Girl empowerment turned on its head

Daughters are valued breadwinners in many tribal communities

EVEN today, many families across India celebrate the birth of a boy. Whereas a girl child is often unwelcome or tolerated at best. Sadly India has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest numbers of incidents of female foeticide in the world. In many parts of the country girls and women continue to face social evils like child marriage, female infanticide, forced pregnancy, and even rape – where girl empowerment is a distant dream.

In contrast, a little tribal Indian village rejoices in the birth of girl children. 

Born into a grim reality

In this village in the Tonk district of Rajasthan girls are brought up with better means and are treated well. They wear beautiful clothes and make up and are valued by their families as the breadwinners. But the reality is grim.

These girls are born with a destiny bestowed upon them by centuries of tradition – to become commercial sex workers. As soon as they reach the age of puberty, their own brothers, fathers, and uncles become pimps and send them off to brothels in big cities. Or to spend the days on highways in front of temporary ‘rooms’ where clients are serviced. Families in the Nat community live off the earnings of their daughters. 

There are many such tribal groups spread across 15 states in India where intergenerational prostitution is an age-old practice and where girl empowerment seems to have been turned on its head.

Facing a dark future

A vicious circle of poverty and patriarchy keeps such practices alive. Even if they try to resist, young girls are pressured to continue the tradition for the survival of their family – and most accept this fate. In some communities, the eldest daughter carries the burden. She continues to live in the family home, where she is allocated a room when customers call. There is no shame, it is simply a way of life. She feels superior to her peers in red light areas of big cities and ‘protected’ within her family home in a twisted form of girl empowerment.

In the village in the Tonk district, the Covid-19 pandemic has cast a dark shadow. Business has not been as usual in the brothels of Mumbai and Delhi where their young girls normally end up. So family earnings have dried up. Some parents who worked as daily wagers have also lost their income. So girls now face the risk within their own villages. And as soon as restrictions to movement are eased, young girls will be packed off to cities for commercial sex work

Help save them from exploitation

GiveIndia’s partner NGO iPartner India has identified 10 vulnerable girls from the Nat community in Tonk, Rajasthan, who await this fate unless they can intervene. iPartner has counselled the parents and with their agreement have found boarding schools in big cities where they can complete their education. Far away from their homes, these bright young girls can continue with school, break free from this humiliating practice and hope to achieve real girl empowerment.

Support iPartner India’s fundraiser which will help cover the academic fees, accommodation, and other expenses to educate these girls for one year. Your donation can break this chain of sex slavery and stop their exploitation. They deserve a chance to dream of a better future.

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