Child protection

Child Protection

 

Effective child protection through UNICEF supported `village watchdog committees'

© UNICEF / India/Bagla/2005
The smile on Sukanya’s face is back as she makes her way to school.

by Pallava Bagla

The smile on Sukanya’s face is back as she makes her way to school. She is grateful and thankful to the vigilant villagers who ensured that she did not drop out of school for good in her tsunami devastated village.

Kudukuppam village, Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu. July 2005 - Thirteen-year old Sukanya, who lost her parents well before the tsunami struck, was being looked after by her grandmother. On that fateful December 26, 2004 morning when the tsunami struck the east coast of India, it took away in its wake the only protective hand over Sukanya. Her grandmother was killed by the tsunami along with 126 others that died in this coastal village that had a population of about 2000. Sukanya was forced to drop out of school, but was still looked after by her relatives in the village. A vigilant group of villagers heard about her plight and then brought her back into the folds of institutionalized education. She is now a student of grade VI at the Parangipetai High School.
Realizing the importance of filling this vital gap, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) decided to suitably strengthen these village level watchdog committees. In May this year over 200 community members from fifty-four affected villages underwent a day long training program in child protection at Cudallore.

Child protection is a well entrenched concept in the state of Tamil Nadu. Almost three years ago the Department of Social Defence of the state had set up `village level watch dog committees.’ Over 12,000 such committees were set up all over the state except in the urban areas of Chennai. Like any other initiative that begins with good intentions, many of these were unable to meet the challenges that they were confronted with in the post tsunami period when the entire social fabric was under severe strain. “These committees were in dire need of support and training to make them effective tools in the first line of defence in child protection” says Mrs. Glory Gunaseeli, Superintendent of Government Observation Home for Children in Cudallore.

Realizing the importance of filling this vital gap, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) decided to suitably strengthen these village level watchdog committees. In May this year over 200 community members from fifty-four affected villages underwent a day long training program in child protection at Cudallore. Specialists from UNICEF lucidly explained to the community members on the need to be extra careful and responsible in the post-disaster scenario when child abuse might be on the upswing.

According to Mr. Saji Thomas, Project Officer (Child Protection), UNICEF,
Chennai, this initiative was undertaken in the tsunami affected regions, as there were `genuine concerns that children and women are more vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of abuse’. At the workshop the participants were initiated on how to look for early signals of child abuse while rules, procedures and enabling laws were explained to them in their local language so that child abuse of any sort could be curbed and trafficking prevented.

© UNICEF/India/Bagla/2005
Child protection is a well entrenched concept in the state of Tamil Nadu. Almost three years ago the Department of Social Defence of the state had set up `village level watch dog committees.’ Over 12,000 such committees were set up all over the state.

Usually there are eight members in each such committee representing citizens from all walks of life. In the first phase, UNICEF will cover about 162 villages in three districts of Nagapattinam, Kanyakumari and Cudallore.

Back at Sukanya’s scenic coastal village of Kudukuppam the members of the village level watch dog committee now meet regularly under the giant tamarind tree in the school compound, discussing ways to curb this social evil. Sitting on straw mats with sand below and the open sky above is an assorted group of village elders that includes Mr. Nala Thambi, the village administrative officer and the convener of this body; Mr. V. Chandran, the panchayat president; Mr. R. Murugan, the village school teacher; Mrs. V.
Mahalaxmi, the Aaganwadi worker; and Mrs. Vasugi, leader of the women’s self help group. Assisting them in their deliberations were volunteers from the
Nehru Yuvak Kendra and officers of the enforcement machinery of the state.
On that hot sultry July evening the committee noted with happiness that they did not fail in their duty and were at least able to bring Sukanya back to school.
According to Mr. Saji Thomas, Project Officer (Child Protection), UNICEF,
Chennai, this initiative was undertaken in the tsunami affected regions, as there were `genuine concerns that children and women are more vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of abuse’
As with most village gatherings, very soon the main subject got lost while other topics started to be hotly debated, among them the need to have better educational and play kits in the school and the need to have proper roads were strongly highlighted by Mr. Chandran who also added with pride that all the children of the village were enrolled in schools. Mrs. Vasugi, leader of the women’s self help group reinforced this fact by saying that any child of school going age seen loitering in the village is taken note of and the parents are promptly counselled so that no child drops out of school.

There can be no better proof that these vigilant bodies are playing an important role in ensuring that the social fabric of the tsunami affected villages remains intact than the joyful face of Sukanya as she makes her way to the school.

 

 

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