COVID-19 & Children’s Lives: Tanu’s Story
While the pandemic brought society to a standstill with calls of “stay home, stay safe” trending everywhere, 14-year-old Tanu* found herself unable to find safety at home.
Oldest of her parents’ four children, Tanu has three brothers with whom she spent the last 12+ months staying at home, studying remotely. Tanu’s parents had moved to the city for better earning opportunities and work full time to make ends meet. To support her parents through this time, Tanu adjusted well to the new normal, studying from home and watching over her siblings during the day.
COVID has been especially hard for hardworking families like Tanu’s who moved to cities in search of better employment leaving behind an existing community and social network of support. India’s second wave added to their woes as now not only were jobs hard to find, but most such families, including Tanu’s, had also run out of savings. But they continued to do their best.
Tanu’s Experience of Harm
People in Tanu’s neighbourhood were aware of the four children being unsupervised at home during the day. In early 2021, a 21-year-old neighbour assaulted Tanu twice. Once his family got wind of it, they began threatening the child, pressuring her to marry the perpetrator in the hopes of avoiding his arrest.
At 14, not only was the child experiencing the trauma of sexual abuse, she was now faced with social stigma, chronic financial stress within the family, and threats to her safety. In a moment of absolute terror at her predicament, fearing that she may have to succumb to the threats, Tanu ran away from home.
It was this decision that led her to encounter a kind stranger 500 km from home who noticed her distress and helped her get in touch with authorities. She was first taken to a state-run Child Care Institution (CCI), where, upon disclosure, she was finally able to file an official complaint against the perpetrator.
The complaint invited an aggravated response from the perpetrator whose family decided to add to the ongoing harassment by filing a false case against Tanu’s father leading to him landing in judicial custody for 10 days.
Not only were the child and her family left with the trauma of abuse and harassment, but without savings, they were now faced with days of inability to buy food and eventually, debt to hire a lawyer for Tanu’s father. Tanu’s father continues to pay nearly half of his monthly income to repay this debt.
Mounting debt and absence of support deeply impacted Tanu and her family. The stigma surrounding child sexual abuse also manifested in people distancing themselves from the family in their time of dire need.
CSJ met Tanu’s father months after all of this happened and by then, Tanu had been sent to her village because of the lack of safety at her home in the city. Our initial point of contact in her case, therefore, was her father who had lost all hope and was experiencing immense distress, isolation and despair. Losing hope in ever getting justice, he revealed that being in the city had worsened Tanu’s distress. To help her, he decided to stay back to earn while the family moved back to their village. Our conversations with Tanu confirmed her feeling safe with the location change, but it also separated the family unit and halted her education.
When CSJ works with a child who has experienced harm, the initial contact involves more than narrating their legal options and rights. The first steps require working with the child and trusted caregivers to find trust in feeling safe again, and in CSJ being with them throughout the process. This shows up in many ways based on each child’s needs and circumstances. In Tanu’s case, we had to start with lending psychological support to her father who was in a very difficult place and who was responsible for Tanu’s wellbeing as well.
Our social worker offered Tanu’s father a space to express his grief and ask questions. With time and the persistence of our social workers, we earned his trust. He now knows that CSJ is committed to ensuring his child’s wellbeing and will see them through the process.
Currently, Tanu is in her village, teaching children in her locality to keep her learning mind engaged with education. With the support of our social worker, she is contemplating her return to the city and her school. Simultaneously, CSJ’s lawyers are advocating in the courts to get Tanu her legally entitled compensation, to bring a little ease to the family’s financial state.
CSJ is currently supporting over 200 children like Tanu to access legal and psychosocial support. We believe that we have just begun in this journey of ensuring children’s access to justice. To do that, we are currently sharing stories of impact under our fundraising campaign, ‘Begin Again’ where we aim to use the raised funds to provide long term care to more children. You can help us in reaching more children in need by sharing this story and donating. Every act counts.
Join us in supporting children to ‘Begin Again.’