East India Addresses Trafficking

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East India Addresses Trafficking

Complete school, attend college and become a government healthcare professional working in her own village – are few modest ambitions of a teenager, Sarjana Biswas hailing from a remote village in West Bengal. Even a few years ago, such humble dreams would have been stamped IMPOSSIBLE in Charmahatpur village in West Bengal, a locale that was once plagued by appalling rates of school dropouts, child marriage and sex trafficking.

Fortunately, now they are labeled as “Achievable” – thanks to a state initiative in association with a land rights advocacy group Landesa. Together, they are empowering young girls in schools with cash incentives to help them dare to dream and look forward towards a better, safe future.

“My sister got married when she was 15 years old. I didn’t want to get married that young,” voiced 17-year-old Sarjana Biswas, as she tended a small vegetable garden at the village community centre. She further added, “I have learned that girls should not get married so young, that we can also own land and cultivate what they want, earn and not be dependent on anyone.”

Plots of Happiness

Approximately, 70 young girls like Sarjana, aged 11 to 18 have been enrolled in Landesa’s Girl’s Project in Charmahatpur village. They are not only learning how to cultivate small plots of vegetable gardens, but also getting educated about the importance of education, challenges of child marriage, financial independence, significance of literacy and benefits of nutritional food – including land ownership.

The official data says – West Bengal alone accounted more than a third of India’s trafficking victims in 2016. Backed by the state efforts, the programme is believed to benefit more than 48000 girls across 1000 villages in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The districts bordering Bangladesh are very vulnerable and ranks high on risk coefficient, they are also termed as hotbeds of sex trafficking. Every year, hundreds of young girls as well as boys are lured by traffickers with the promise of better jobs in the cities only to dispatch them to the Gulf regions, later on.

In this regard, the Girl’s Project launched in 2011 is doing some great work in giving the girls their desired independence and dignity. The girls who have been under this program are more likely to stay in school and receive an asset in their names, only a few years later. “Landlessness is the biggest indicator of poverty, and by addressing the land literacy issue, they hope to make things work better. To live a life with dignity, knowing the importance of land ownership is very important,” says Sumit Gupta, Chief Revenue Officer of Nadia district, in which Charmahatpur is situated.

Land Promises Security and Safe Future

Land Reforms have always played a key role in Bengal’s historical landscape. It was one of the first states in India to enact a land reform land in 1955, yet it has been sluggishly slow in implementing measures to redistribute the land. The Girl’s Project is expected to tap this burgeoning problem and eradicate it right from the grass-root level. Reaching over to 1.25 million girls, it aims to educate the girls on how to grow vegetables, fruits and even timber in a small plot of land so as to supplement their meals, along with adding some penny to the family income. In the community centre, girls after completing their school are found inspecting beans, spinach and cabbages in a small plot of land. They are carefree and happy souls!

In terms of remuneration, the girls receive 750 rupees per year from the state for their education, and once they turn 18 and remain unmarried and still in school, another 25000 rupees is awarded.

Till now, more than 200000 families have been benefited by this initiative. Their daughters were educated about the perks of farming and land rights. Though it took some time to convince their parents about the merits of this program, but later on they understood how big an initiative this was! Only to make their daughters’ lives better and safe!

Read another interesting story on sex trafficking and how it’s being mitigated in Andhra Pradesh here:

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