Mariyam is a 10-year-old lively girl. She was a student at Save the Children, Hyderabad's Child-Friendly Learning Centre. Her aptitude to grasp concepts quickly, memorise and recollect her lessons secured her admission to a good private school. That's not all. Her passion for painting and drawing gave wings to her imaginative and creative mind. She wanted to paint the world in colours. In a cruel twist of fate, a stable family, access to education and a secured environment all became dear to Mariyam.
At a very early age, her parents separated. Her mother remarried which unfortunately also failed. In a state of depression, she committed suicide. Mariyam's maternal uncle offered to take on her responsibilities. Her uncle had four dependents (a wife, two sons and one daughter) to take care of. His wife resented that he has to spend money on Mariyam. She started making Mariyam do household chores and eventually persuaded her husband to shift her to a residential madrassa in Balapur.
Mariyam was displaced once again. She started going to school, began interacting with girls her age. Just as she was settling in, the pandemic came and uprooted her life again. With the school closed, she was back at her uncle's house. Her aunt started piling on her all the household chores. If that was not enough, she started physically and verbally abusing her. This continued for quite some time. Her aunt pretended to be good and caring in front of her uncle and her uncle remained unaware of Mariyam's suffering.
Unable to bear the pain, Mariyam one day ran away from home, along with her documents. Her little feet took her back to Balapur. For two days, she played with the children during the day and spent the nights near a deserted lake. A woman spotted her and took cognisance of her predicament. She alerted Save the Children's Project Office in Balapur who in turn referred her case to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) through the 1098 Child Helpline. The CWC visited her uncle, spoke to him and got her COVID test done. After some deliberations, the CWC arrived at the decision that she will be safe at a State Home Shelter for Girls.
Save the Children supported this decision. The team has been counselling her uncle and aunt, but they were not ready to take her back. Save the Children supported Mariyam with one-time cash assistance of Rs 5,000, clothes and in due course will make sure she continues with her education.
"Mariyam has been with us right when she was three and would come to our Child-Friendly Learning Space. We feel very close to her. She is very good at studies, her paintings, her drawing stands apart. She used to say she wanted to paint the world with colours. Against all odds, she stood strong and hope she remains strong and grows up to be a successful woman," said Mohammad Asif, Project Coordinator, Save the Children, Hyderabad.
Any kind of crisis makes children more vulnerable to violence and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this. Added stressors related to food security and income increases the risk to children already in abusive and neglectful households, also increases the potential for parents/caregivers to turn abusive. Under such circumstances, children also become vulnerable to child labour and trafficking.
To tackle child protection issues on the ground, Save the Children India have adopted an action plan that engages with various district child welfare committees and the district child protection units. Children's groups at the village level are also activated who are trained as young warriors and raise children's issues during any crisis.
The action plan aims at identifying, linking and referring all cases of a child in need of care and protection to relevant government authorities and statutory structures such as CHILDLINE- 1098, National/State Commission for Protection of Child Rights-18001212830, Police-100 and District Child Protection Units.
Mariyam has been aware of the efforts on child rights and witnessed many such awareness sessions held on the office premises. She knows very well that in any distressing situation the child can call the 1098 helpline and seek help. It is Save the Children Hyderabad's efforts that children are becoming aware of whom to reach in times of distress.