She was barely 12 years old when she used to stand on the infamous streets and dingy corners of Kamathipura, soliciting customers for her mother who is a sex worker. She would also run errands for clients and would sometimes get assaulted and abused. She feared she too would be forced into the flesh trade. But her mother wanted her child to be away from the dangers of the red light district, especially during the night hours. Prerana, an NGO that works for the empowerment of children of sex workers, came to her rescue. The NGO, with its four night care centres spread across Mumbai, has been providing shelter and safety to hundreds of children of sex workers for several years. Priti Patkar, the founder of the NGO, says children born to women living in red light areas are exposed to sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking, especially at night.
Priti says, “I have seen children as young as five begging in the streets to get customers for their mothers. They get beaten up and harassed by some of the men. We wanted to uproot them from these dangerous situations they encounter at night. Therefore, we started night care centres and provided a safe environment for the children to live and grow. Even the mothers don’t like their children being exposed to this kind of a life.” Prerana’s night shelters are spread across three red light areas, including Kamathipura, Falkland Road and Vashi Turbhe. One of the centres is dedicated only for boys above 14 years of age. Prerana not only provides shelter but also nutrition, counselling, education and recreational programmes for the children. “Typically, the children are dropped at our centres by their mothers at around 7 pm everyday and they leave the centre at around 7 am the next day,” adds Priti.
The centres have children as young as two to as old as 20. They come to the shelter usually after attending their school or daycare. “We provide them food, help them in their studies for a few hours, counsel them, teach them life skills and also involve them in various activities like sports, singing, etc. There are doctors who visit them regularly and we also have sessions with mothers on effective parenting once in a while. Children sleep at the centre and go back to their home or school the next day morning. It’s not just a place for them to lodge but a holistic programme that we have crafted for their overall development,” says Priti. About 300 children currently use the night shelters across the centres and over 12,000 have benefitted from it over the years. Priti says these shelters have also changed the outlook of the mothers and some of them have even left prostitution and started doing ordinary jobs for a living.
She says, “Mothers see their children doing well and happy, being away from the flesh trade and bad influences. They feel they are not part of the excluded community, looking at the way their children are growing up. So, it naturally motivates the mothers to pursue something better. We have seen kids who were sexually abused. It was detrimental to their upbringing. But our night shelters have given them a new lease of life and every evening, they look forward to coming. They are able to face the world with dignity and more confidence.”
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