A Tarnished Bangle Shines Again
By Mridula Narayan
The door is wide open, drawing the only source of light into the four corners of their small room, their home. 11-year-old Misha* is silently sitting in front of the door, placing beads on a wooden stool and then, with a tweezer, carefully turning the beads around to align them into a straight line. Then she picks up a plastic bangle with glue and rolls it over the line of beads, two or three times. And what she is holding in her hand after that is incredible – a colourful bead bangle. The women in her community are mostly home-based workers involved in bangle embellishments and tie-dyeing.
Misha’s mother, Anju*, is sitting beside Misha to help her make these bead bangles, despite having a fever for the past couple of days. But she has no other options: she has to earn an income for the family and Misha is the only one who can help her.
Anju buys the plastic bangles and the beads separately from a wholesaler near her home, crafts it into finished bead bangles and sells it back to retail shopkeepers in the market. To make ends meet, she has to make about 500 bangles per day. Today, Misha is making all the 500. This is the family’s only source of income. Misha’s father is without work and has been struggling with alcoholism for many years.
Many children in this community, especially girls, are brought into the traditional work of bangle embellishments due to their families’ poor financial conditions.
Misha is more mature than children of her age in the community. She looks after her mother, takes care of household work and also watches over her younger sisters and their friends. Her maturity at such a young age, unfortunately, comes from an incident that no child or any human should ever face.
Three years back, on a summer afternoon, Misha went to buy ice from her neighbour ice-seller. No one was at their home except the 17-year-old son. When Misha asked him for ice, but he gave her 10 rupees (about HK$1.1) and asked her to buy him something and come back. She silently obeyed. When she went back to his house, he locked the door and sexually assaulted the eight-year-old child. Then, he gave her another 10 rupee note asking her not to tell anyone what happened.
After he told Misha to go home, the little girl ran home crying and weeping. She was even bleeding then. As she was yelling and crying out loud on the streets, people came out of their homes and gathered around her home. They also caught the boy and handed him over to the police.
Anju said the police recorded the case, but the boy was released after only a few days.
Misha was frightened and experienced a whole range of social effects following the incident. She refused to step out of her home and even when she would go for a bath, she would scream and yell out of the fear that was gripping her.
When World Vision India’s Child Protection Unit heard about the incident, they immediately contacted Misha’s mother. This Child Protection Unit, comprising youth and women from the community, was formed by World Vision when they began working in the community in 2015.
“We went to Misha’s mother and assisted her to seek help from the authorities.” says Mobina, a member of the Child Protection Unit from the community. The case was quickly investigated and the boy is now put in a juvenile jail. Misha received social support from authorised personnel in the hospital.
The Child Protection Unit not only helped Misha get assistance, but also empowered Anju to meet with a lawyer to receive the government’s compensation that Misha is legally entitled to.
“I used to go to the lawyer’s office and the juvenile jail almost every day for an entire year to get this compensation” narrates Anju. “The Child Protection Unit assisted me and helped my family get the justice that we deserved.”
Only justice in the case was not the end, the Child Protection Unit also decided to help restore Misha’s childhood back to her.
“Volunteer Mobina constantly spoke to her and explained to her how this wasn’t her mistake and that she wasn’t at fault. After that, we and her family stopped talking to her about the incident to help her overcome her fears and the distasteful memories,” shares Harun, the Community Development Facilitator from World Vision India.
While helping Misha cope with the distress of this ghastly incident in her life, we taught her parents the significance of withdrawing Misha from child labour and giving her education. Misha had never been to school before.
After that, the Child Protection Unit motivated Misha’s parents to enrol her in school. Since Misha was still fearful of mingling with people, she began by attending one of World Vision’s Remedial Education Coaching Centres. These centres help children who have difficulties coping with studies in school develop their reading and learning outcomes. Children are also taught games and activities to develop their interests and hobbies.
Mobina says, “We kept visiting her home and motivating her to come to World Vision’s Remedial Education Coaching Centre. Finally, she opened up and started coming. Here, we encouraged her to study, play and mingle with other children at the centre. Now, we’ve also enrolled Misha in a school. She goes to school with her friend and returns with her.”
The Child Protection Unit is also actively working amongst families like Misha’s in the community to raise awareness against child labour. Like Misha, many others are involved in the industry of bangle embellishment. Slowly, though not fully, children’s education is taking the forefront and child labour the back seat.
Today, three years later, I’m sitting with Misha at her home as she makes bangles for her mother’s business. She enthusiastically shares with me that English is her favourite subject and she loves going to school. She was feeling sad that she had been missing school for the past three days because her mother was sick.
When I asked her, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” She said with a smile, “I want to be like Mobina didi (elder sister). I want to teach small children like she does.”
Misha’s story is a bitter-sweet reminder for us. While it is devastating to know that an eight-year-old child had to face a spiteful incident like this, it is heart-warming to know that her childhood is slowly getting restored.
You and I must protect our children, be their voices, and speak out against any violence committed against them. World Vision is striving to help end sexual violence against children, but it will take every one of us to end child sexual abuse.