The Right to:
The Right to Legal Protection
In each of our anti-trafficking centres, Apne Aap has established a legal aid unit to help women understand their rights, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and Indian national law. Our legal protection programmes help the women and girls in Self Empowerment Groups (SEGs) understand the criminal justice system and how it can help deliver justice to trafficking victims. In addition, through in-depth legal awareness and training, we provide women the space to understand the system and the market demand that exploits them — and we give them the tools to fight for change.
When women in our programme are confronted with violence of abuse, our legal Project Officers are available to help the women through their legal options. They learn about laws and human rights instruments that can help them protect themselves, including:
- The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act
- The UN Trafficking Protocol
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Constitution of India also entitles women and girls in marginalized communities to legal protections, which are often unknown to them. We provide training to members to access these rights and, when required, Programme Officers also help beneficiaries expedite their cases through the court process.
The victim support programme also includes:
- Assistance in writing and filing First Information Reports (FIRs) against traffickers.
- Ensuring that FIRs are registered with the proper authorities.
- Providing pro bono lawyers to assist victims and to ensure successful prosecution of a trafficking offense or other act of violence against women.
- Preparing witnesses to testify against their own exploiters in court.
- Establishing watchdog groups in high-risk areas to block traffickers, as well as building the capacity of women and girls to serve as watchdog group members.
- Working with police officers, prosecutors and lawyers to change their response to the illegal act of human trafficking, so that they prosecute traffickers instead of victims.
We also file litigation in the public interest (Public Interest Litigation, PIL) on child rights and on the state’s role in protecting individuals from being trafficked. In doing so, we both raise awareness and hold the police, justice system, and government accountable to India’s human rights protocol.
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The Right to Education
Apne Aap’s first priority is to get children, especially girls, out of red light districts and slums, and into mainstream schools. Through easily accessible community classrooms located in local Apne Aap centres, trained teachers and members of the women’s Self Empowerment Groups recruit, enroll, and track children in the school programmes. In addition to education and the empowerment that comes with it, the system instills confidence, self-respect, dignity, and awareness.
We help students register and prepare for the tests required by the National Institute of Open Schooling, to get accreditation for the education they have undergone in our community learning centres so that they can move into their local formal education programme.
Apne Aap supports community-based centres that encourage vulnerable children from red light districts and other marginalized communities who otherwise do not attend school, to come and learn reading, writing and mathematics, and computer classes.
Our centres identify the learning needs of each child and design teaching methods to meet their specific needs, with the goal of eventually bridging them into mainstream education. The programme also provides adult literacy education for women in prostitution, as well as after-school tutoring for children in mainstream schools.
Our community centres have also become hubs of cultural activity, where women and children are allowed to freely express their pain, hopes, and desires in creative ways. Activities include painting classes, theatre workshops, and storytelling sessions, which each act as a cathartic release. We also host a unique creative art therapy programme that addresses and dispels myths associated with HIV/AIDS.
Apne Aap’s Art Resilience Project uses art and family discussion to help children learn social skills for dealing with life’s challenges. The project helps children emerge from self-hatred, guilt, and shame to develop confidence and a positive self-image. An annual award ceremony celebrates the achievement women and girls.
We offer educational courses for developing life skills, including awareness about HIV/AIDS, self-defense, maternal and child health, hygiene and nutrition, and an understanding of vulnerability to trafficking. We also provide discussions on gender, sex, and sexuality, as well as trainings on using reproductive health toolkits.
To instill confidence and leadership skills, we host public debates on relevant social issues for participants, and organize workshops and seminars to inform women of their essential rights. We also provide counseling for prostituted women and their daughters.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
As a result of extensive petitioning and campaigning on the part of women from Apne Aap Self Empowerment Groups (SEG) for formal schooling for their children, the government of Bihar enabled Apne Aap to establish Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, a hostel for 50 girls from at-risk communities. The hostel protects the daughters of prostituted women from sexual predators by keeping them out of brothels whilst also supporting their education through homework help and extra-curricular classes such as karate and dance.
This is the first education project funded by the Government of India’s new an anti-trafficking programme, Education for All. Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya is also supported by the Ms. Foundation for Women.
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The Right to a Dignified Livelihood
From the beginning of our organization, the women and girls who join Self-Empowerment Groups (SEGs) have been eager for vocational training, skills development, and income generation opportunities. Based on this input from our community, we designed a programme that empowers women and girls to organize themselves into economic, as well as social, cooperatives.
The programme was specifically designed for the women we serve and the environment in which we work — keeping in mind the availability of local resources, market demand, and the best interest of the group. It seeks to create the space for women to train for jobs, save for the future, and even run small businesses.
To begin, each SEG sets a savings goal of anywhere from 30 to 100 Indian Rupees per month. All members contribute regularly to the group’s savings. Each month, the women decide together to give a portion of their pooled money to help whomever in the group has the most urgent need (food or school payments for a member’s child). Most of the money remains saved collectively, so that after six months, the group is eligible to open a bank account, access bank loans, and start small businesses projects together.
Today, more than 1,000 women and girls have bank accounts thanks to their association with Apne Aap. Over the next five years, we hope to link our group members to the government’s rights-based programs to enhance their savings.
Once they have access to formal financial services, SEGs in the programme choose an entrepreneurial project, based on their skills and interests. One SEG recently used a bank loan to open a canteen, selling lunch in Kolktata. Other groups have started handicraft manufacturing businesses.
In addition to entrepreneurship opportunities, Apne Aap offers courses in sewing, tailoring, basic computer skills, jewelry making, and handbag craftsmanship, as well as English language courses to qualify women for employment at international, outsourced phone answering companies.
After a women completes skills training, staff members help her take the next step into the formal market, either by helping her market and sell her products, or by making connections to full time employers. Women in our training programmes have been hired in a number of positions, such as artisans, security guards, daycare supervisors, and dance trainers.
We are also working with other organizations to connect SEG members to additional innovative jobs training programmes. For Example, the U.S.-based NGO Nomi Network has partnered with Apne Aap to train our beneficiaries in the making of bags for the international market in Kolkata and Bihar. Nomi uses a “train the trainer” model, which first provides women with relevant job skills, then teaches them to train other women in their SEG. The model reinforces women’s training while equipping them for higher-paid employment.
In addition to these job opportunities, Apne Aap also hires women from the communities directly into its programmes as organizational staff, whenever an appropriate position is available.
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The Right to Safe and Independent Housing
No woman or girl in a marginalized community in India should live without a home. Multiple government programmes are supposed to provide safe and independent housing so that she never has to. But the majority of women who need these programmes are cut off from them due to a lack of information, red tape and corruption. This is a vital concern to Apne Aap. Without a safe and secure place to live, it is difficult to get out of the sex industry, and those living without a safe home are prime targets for traffickers.
Recognizing that access to safe housing is a vital right and asset for the women we serve, Apne Aap connects our communities to housing programmes through the same approach we use to tackle their other needs: we organize women who have similar needs, make them aware of resources, and then facilitate logistics as necessary.
Below Poverty Line
Meant exclusively for the poorest sections of the population, the government’s Below Poverty Line (BPL) programme provides multiple subsidies and benefits, including housing subsidies. As such, the government covers the cost of building a home for families or individuals living below the poverty line; for those above the poverty line who still cannot afford safe and independent housing, partial grants and loans are available.
Many of the women in our Self Empowerment Groups are eligible for this program. However, due to complicated local politics and corruption, the BPL list often comprises members of those who are economically well-off, elite and influential.
Many eligible individuals are not even aware that the BPL programme exists: local level government officials and even the local elected representatives deliberately deprive people of information about their entitlements.
Connecting women to information and access
Apne Aap combats this widespread ignorance by making women aware of the programmes and helping them take advantage of their entitled benefits. We provide information, help them file the proper paperwork, and help them petition local officials for the housing that’s being denied them.
In many cases, as women come together in an area and begin to understand the existence of housing programmes — and who the programmes are actually benefiting — they work to have the corrupt system changed. Women in SEGs have petitioned local authorities, organized rallies, and even staged sit-ins at government offices to demand for the rectification of the BPL lists.