Breakthrough Trust is a human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Breakthrough's intervention in India addresses the issue of gender-biased sex selection, or the practice of girls not being allowed to be born. Domestic violence, which makes homes one of the most vulnerable places for women, is another issue we address. We've been running a campaign called Ring the Bell, or Bell Bajao, which addresses domestic violence.
In early marriage, a girl is forced to be married before the age of 18 against her own wishes. She completely loses her childhood and faces severe forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Most of Breakthrough's interventions are designed to empower adults and girls from vulnerable communities. Breakthrough works in around 4,000 villages in the states of U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, and Delhi. Many of these villages are ruled by upper-caste men. The caste system is very much prevalent in India, and caste-based atrocities are quite common.
Many of the villages are in geographically vulnerable areas. The eastern U.P., where we work, is just adjacent to the Nepal border, where trafficking of boys and girls is quite prevalent both to and from Nepal. These are villages where we work in India.
Most of the villages where we work are ruled by panchayat and are mostly governed by customary law. Customary laws are the laws of these villages, their own laws, which are based on norms. They are more powerful than the constitutional rights of the vulnerable communities, namely the minorities, the girls, the tribals, the women, and the invalids.
I'll give you an example of how customary laws differ from the law of the land. Suppose a girl gets raped, especially if she is from a village community. By customary law, the panchayat, the chiefs of the villages, come together and justice is decided in line with the perpetrator. They feel that justice is done if the perpetrator can marry the girl. In our eyes, this is not the justice we look for. Again, if she is from a village community, then her being alone is questioned. Instead of the perpetrator being punished, she and her family will be punished for her getting raped.
Girls are considered a burden as per the village norms, and since their safety is closely associated with the family's honour, their mobility is restricted, as well as access to critical services like health services. Education and skills are not considered a priority, compared to the safety concerns. According to this perception of girls, once they achieve puberty and are groomed to be married, they drop out of school and get malnourished and anemic. Since she is not aware of her rights and was taught early on to be silent and guard the honour of the family, the violence she faces at home and with her relatives is never spoken about. It doesn't come out.
Once she gets married, she doesn't have agency. With little negotiation skills, she faces huge domestic violence, physical and mental, but doesn't even realize this is violence.
In Haryana, where we work and where the practice of gender-biased sex selection is prevalent, in many of the villages there are 40-year-old men who are not married because there are no women in the villages. Instead of seeing that as something they need to change, they actually bring women from the other states, say from Jharkhand, where early marriage is quite prevalent. They literally buy them. Bride-buying is a practice that is being followed in Haryana, with brides from Jharkhand and other vulnerable states where tribals and different other minorities stay. They buy girls and bring them back to Haryana.
So this is one practice. For us this is very close to trafficking, so these girls are trafficked, and in many parts of India this practice is there.
In the districts where we work, closer to Nepal, the children, including boys and girls, are used as conduits to traffic goods, [Inaudible--Editor], petrol, and sometimes drugs across the border to Nepal, and from Nepal girls are trafficked to India. This happens in three stages. One group is trafficked to the border, and from the border to the nearest transit city, which is Gorakpur, or Gaya. From there, they are trafficked to the bigger cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
It's something that work on at Breakthrough to try to address the issue that emanates from poverty and lack of agency among girls. The girls can be rescued. The girls can be empowered so that they understand their rights and can escape trafficking.
I will stop here.