14-year-old Seema was brought by officers of the Child Helpline to the hospital for pregnancy testing. She had run away from her home and was rescued by the Helpline; she would be now sent to a shelter home till the legal procedures would be completed. As per the norms, for admitting a female to a shelter home, a negative pregnancy test report is a mandatory requirement.

Counselling session in progress in Sajha rooms

Sajha is present at the hospital Seema came to, and the counsellor spoke to her. Seema explained that she had been telephonically introduced to a man by her cousin and they had gotten to like each other. However, she had never met him but had planned to elope with him, upon his insistence. As per a plan made by him, Seema had left her house a day ago, without informing anyone. The man had then met her at a pre-decided place and taken her to the house of a woman, who, he said, was his sister-in-law. It was one of the neighbours who senses something amiss and informed the Child Helpline at night. When the three of them were asleep, the Helpline officers and police arrived and arrested them all on suspicions of trafficking. The next morning, the Helpline decided to send Seema to a shelter home while the police would follow legal procedures with the other two adults.

The counsellor explained the dangers that Seema had almost got into but for the timely rescue by the police. However, Seema was obstinate and said she would not return home; she would marry the man (whose name she was not sure of) at any cost. The Sajha counsellor spent two hours talking to her and explaining to her the dangers of trafficking, but in vain.

The pregnancy test came back negative, and Seema would be put in a shelter home for the time being.

Sajha realized the multiple layers of reality that impinged upon this case: Seema’s parents were extremely poor, and they were five siblings. Seema had never been to school and needed to work with her parents from a very early age. In comparison to the life, she otherwise led at home – squabbles and quarrels, an alcohol-addicted abusive father and missing meals – the dreams shown to her by the man seemed too appealing to ignore. Sajha’s descriptions of the horrific lives of women and girls who are trafficked could not deter Seema from her decision to stay with this man.

Upon the latest follow up with the Helpline, Sajha found that the man and woman had been jailed and Seema had been sent home to her family.

About the Programme: SAJHA is conceptualised as a learning pilot intended to assess the sustainability and feasibility of scaling up of health systems’ response to women who report injuries caused by physical abuse from their intimate partners/spouses. While during the covid lockdown in 2020, when most of the social support services were closed or partially functioning, SAJHA continued to be completely functional and strategised pathways to spread its reach into the community.

Posted by: Ms. Anshu Kumari and Ms. Veena Kumari

Location: Hajipur block, Vaishali district

*To protect the beneficiary’s identity, all names in the narrative have been changed, and no images have been taken.