Kriti Bharti is an internationally recognised Rehabilitation Psychologist for her work for child welfare and women empowerment.
Kriti is a member of the Rajasthan Child Rights Resource of UNICEF and a Visiting Faculty of many National and International Universities for training and special sessions on child and women’s rights. She is pursuing her PH.D in Psychology with a focus on “Children in Need of Care and Protection”. She has been trained in Child Rights by Unicef, NIPCCS and other institutions and is working as a Consultant for them. She single handedly established the charity Saarthi Trust in 2012 to help victims of India’s child marriage crisis and set up another charity, Badhtey Kadam, to help poor street children who are looking to improve their lives.
The second part of her interview will be published on July 27th.
1. You established The Saarthi Trust singlehandedly in 2012 and you are an award winning child rights activist. What first inspired you to dedicate your life to this cause?
I grew up in a single parent household as my father abandoned our family when I was an infant. I was bullied throughout my childhood for having no father. Through this tough childhood, I came to empathise with child and women victims and their grief for their lost childhood and womanhood. I had to face so many harsh and terrible experiences of rejection and abuse by relatives. When I grew up, I wanted to help such children and give them a life to look forward to. While pursuing my postgraduate degree in Psychology, I came across a case of child rape. I was asked to provide counselling which proved to be successful in eliminating her fear and and helping her go on to a more positive life. I also worked with her to seek justice, and found that the justice system was – and still is – very weak for the victims. With time and effort, I achieved justice for the girl I was helping. That moment of success in helping someone led me to realise that this is the work that brings me satisfaction and also my own healing from abuse. That was the transformative moment for me to commit myself to fighting for justice for victims, particularly for cases of child marriage.
2. The Saarthi Trust is a NGO which supports and aims to rehabilitate women who have been affected violence and childhood marriage. Please tell us more about the range of programmes you offer that help and rehabilitate survivors.
Here are the programmes we currently run:
- Naya Savera ‘A’ – (Annulment of Child Marriage Cases) – 15 successful cases to date.
- Naya Savera ‘S’ – (Stopping of Child Marriage Cases) – 110 successful cases to date.
- Chahakta Aangan, Creche at Central Jail- providing social support, education, and nutritional services to children living in jail with their mothers.
- Badhte Kadam, (Creche and Study Centre for Slum Area) – providing pre-school teaching, developmental activities, and socio-psychological development.
- Aapno Saathi, Child Helpline and Advocacy Centre (Helpline ensuring Child Protection issues regarding child labour, child marriage, sexual offences, and corporal punishment)
- Orientation Programmes (for the allied community system) – orienting society on various issues such as HIV, child rights and women’s rights.
- Nayi Dagar, (Women Prisoners Empowerment Oriented Programme) – providing skills training to empower women who are incarcerated.
- Bulandi, (Help for self-employment for women) – providing financial support to help women start businesses.
- Baal Sneh Milan,(a Children’s Fair for vulnerable children in need of care and protection) – an annual event to celebrate the anniversary of Saarthi
- Udaan,(Employment Oriented Training for the Girls and Women)
3. The mission statement on your website states that you are striving “to establish a healthy society with a fearless and equal atmosphere for everyone.” Why do you feel equality is particularly important for women in Indian society?
Indian society is a patriarchal society based on traditions. Yes, there is no doubt that the holy manuscripts have given the women the respect of “Goddess”, but our patriarchal society could not go along with these sayings. The real situation is totally different from the holy books. Woman does not need the respect of “Goddess”, she needs to be treated as “Human”. If we want to see a healthy society where everyone lives fearlessly and happily, it is very important to establish equality for women. Also as women are equally responsible for developing the next generation and contributing to national development, equality is very important to see the prosper picture of Indian society.
4. The Saarthi Trust has been instrumental in raising the public profile of ending the crisis of child marriage in India. Tell us more about this phenomenon and why it is such a widespread problem across India.
Children constitute 44% of India’s population. Their well-being and growth is an important indicator of its social and economic development and they are the future of any country. Unfortunately, many of them survive in some of the most difficult of circumstances such as extreme poverty, loss of parents, and exposure to abuse. One of the risks female children face is the practice of Child Marriage, which is very common and socially acceptable within Indian society.
In a study carried out between the years 1998 to 1999 on women aged 15-19 it was found that 33.8% were currently married or in a union. In 2000 the UN Population Division recorded that 9.5% of boys and 35.7 % of girls aged between 15-19 were married. This showed that child marriage was far more prevalent among girls and this highlighted the gender dimension of the problem. The National Family Health Survey of 2005- 2006 (NFHS-3) carried out in twenty-nine states confirmed that 45% of women currently aged 20-24 years were married before the age of eighteen years. The percentage was much higher in rural areas (58.5%) than in urban areas (27.9%) and exceeded 50% in eight states. The percentage of women aged 20-24, married by the time they are 18, stood at 61.2% in Jharkhand followed by 60.3 % in Bihar, 57.1% in Rajasthan, 54.7% in AP, and 53% in MP, UP and West Bengal. The NFHS-3 findings further revealed that 16% of women aged 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. It was also found that more than half of Indian women were married before the legal minimum age of 18 compared to 16% of men aged 20-49 who were married by age 18. Though NFHS-3 did not compile data on girls who were married below the age of 15, the 2001 Census of India had revealed that 300,000 girls under 15 had given birth to at least one child. Further in a survey conducted by the Government of Rajasthan in 1993 it was found that 56% girls had been forced into marriage before the age of 15 and of these 7% were married before they were 10 years of age. A second survey conducted in 1998 in the State of MP found that 14 % girls were married between the ages of 10 and 14. In states like Rajasthan, mass marriages of very young children take place on occasions like the Akha Teej.
Children who are victims of child marriage do not receive their basic rights to good health, nutrition, education and are exposed to various forms of violence, abuse and exploitation. Also, premature pregnancy & low infant mortality are foreseeable consequences of child marriages. Child Marriage is also often related to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour or any other purpose. It is very disheartening to note that such conditions persist despite its ratification to United Nation Convention on Rights of Children and the presence of laws and policies that are made to stop incidences of child marriage.
5. The Saarthi Trust provides psychological support for survivors of child marriage. How do you help these young girls begin to recover from what they have been through?
During our work to stop or annul child marriages, we incorporate support, rehabilitation and healing through a variety of actions.
We work with survivors to re-establish them to families and communities, we provide for the basic needs to reduce risk of further exploitation, and we provide counselling to survivors and their families. We provide a variety of health education programmes, development strategies and vocational skills building to help survivors achieve independence in leading their lives. We provide follow-up and support healthy relationships and marriages of choice.