Around 20% of Assam’s population (6.5 million) is directly associated with 800 large tea plantations. The tea garden community comprises multi-ethnic groups of workers and their dependents, including children. Save the Children (also known as Bal Raksha Bharat) has been working with children and their families across 35 big tea plantations in various tea-growing districts of Assam since July 2014. Adolescent groups were formed in intervening tea gardens, and over the years, they have emerged as trained leaders on child rights and protection issues. One such story of a child leader is Radha’s.
Radha, 17, is a resident of Jungle Line, Lepetkatta Tea Estate, lives with her parents and two elder brothers. Her mother, Gangu Rajak* (35), is a daily wage earner, and her father, Mangal Rajak* (43), is a tea estate worker. This young girl loves going to school. She is a part of the 20-member adolescent group in her tea estate. She was introduced to various aspects of child rights during a training session organised by Save the Children in coordination with the District Child Protection Unit, in 2019.
Since then, there has been no stopping her. She has been working extensively with children in her tea garden areas to educate them on child protection issues. She leads the children’s group in her community and works closely with the Village Child Protection Committee (VLCPC) as a child leader. As the group leader, she holds regular meetings to discuss various issues related to child rights. During one such meeting, the group decided to adopt a different approach and formed a theatre group. Through this medium, they wanted to sensitize communities on child rights.
During the pandemic, when children of tea workers were having trouble accessing their classes due to poor connectivity of internet, Radha took it upon herself to ensure learning continuity. She brought up the matter with the local Panchayat. With their support, she could enroll eight boys and girls to school and mobilised the Panchayat to ensure that local teachers take physical classes at the village community hall by maintaining COVID-appropriate behaviour.
This little girl and her group also proactively prevented at least five child marriages with the support of the Village Child Protection Committee members. She also intervened when she found a girl, Asha, was being physically assaulted by her neighbours. Asha couldn’t understand why they were treating her badly and blamed herself for the harassment that her mother was facing. The experience had left her deeply scarred.
“I was devastated when Asha shared her traumatic experience. But I knew what I had to do. I reached out to the Village Child Protection Committee to ensure that necessary protection is given to her. It takes time to change the system, but that should not deter the healing process and empathise with the family going through trauma,” articulated Radha with determination to resolve the issue.
She, along with Save the Children’s Community Mobiliser, Manu, had counselled Asha and her parents and lodged a formal complaint with the local police station. They also sought support from the Child Welfare Committee in the district.
Save the Children, with the support of the District Child Protection Unit and Village Child Protection Committee, ensured that proper complaint was lodged regarding the case. The family is currently receiving ration as well as psycho-social support.
“Radha is like a Messiah to us, the way she listened to our crisis and took the decision to refer the case to the child protection committee, I am thankful to her. Her presence of mind and attitude is
praiseworthy. I wish her good luck,” said Asha’s mother.
She herself has also extended psychological support through telephonic conversation to little girls and their families on child protection issues. Radha made it a point to give Asha a call every day, ask her about her well-being, and counsel her to continue her studies, until the latter bounced back to normalcy.
“To me, freedom means every child enjoying their rights to the fullest. That’s why we are trying to sensitize our communities about various aspects of child rights; it is only through this we can develop as a nation,” shares Radha.