Jacinta is only ten years old and so slight, she looks as if a breath of wind might blow her away. But looks can be deceptive; Jacinta has big plans and a steely determination to match.
“One day, I would like to be an engineer,” she says with a grin.
Yet just a few months ago, this would have been an impossible dream. Jacinta’s life then was about day to day survival, not planning for a bright future.
Jacinta’s mum died when she was born; her father left her with her grandparents and never came back. They did their best to care for her but now they are too old and frail to work. Jacinta was forced to leave school and earn what little she could, cleaning other people’s houses. This was a very dangerous time for her. With no one in her family able to support and protect her, Jacinta was at great risk of being exploited by her employers or trafficked as a domestic slave or sex worker to the Indian capital, Delhi.
Trafficking is so widespread in the rural part of Jharkhand State where Jacinta lives, that many parents feel that the only way to keep their girls safe is to send them to grow-up in orphanages. And this is not the only threat facing families here; extreme poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and the high number of second marriages, tear families apart and drive children through the orphanage gates.
But orphanages do not protect children; they harm them. Behind the high walls of an institution, Jacinta would be just one child among many, denied the love and individual attention she so desperately needs. She would be isolated from her community but still at risk of abuse and neglect from older children and staff; out of sight, out of mind.
Our prevention services: keeping families together
Today though, Jacinta and her grandparents have the support they need to stay together. Our local partners, CINI, helped to increase their household income by linking them with welfare and sponsorship schemes so that Jacinta can grow-up as part of a family and a community, not locked away in an orphanage.
And the Anandshala Child Friendly Space that we’ve helped to develop, close to her home, has given Jacinta the confidence she needs to focus on the future again. As a member of the Adolescent Group there, Jacinta meets and talks with girls her own age who understand her situation. With their support and encouragement, she has enrolled on the centre’s Bridge Course and now she spends her time catching up on her studies instead of scrubbing floors.
When we met Jacinta at the Anandshala, she’d put on her favourite dress to have her picture taken; a happy, confident little girl whose ambition to become an engineer now doesn’t seem such a distant dream at all.
‘There is no alternative to education,” she tells us, adding firmly, “If I am educated, I can do anything I want, I can be independent.’