Welcome to Morigaon. For most who live in big cities, this is a far off place located in the heart of Assam, North East India. A small district with the Brahmaputra flowing through its northern part, Morigaon is also known to be a symbol of ferocity of floods in Assam. Every year, large areas in the district are inundated and considerable tracts of land are swallowed up by erosion.
Meet the Leher team. A young, passionate and energetic group who worked in collaboration with the State Child Protection Society of Assam and UNICEF (Assam) and conducted a Child Protection District Need Assessment Study (DNA) for Morigaon between February – May 2014. Thereafter, a District Child Protection Plan was prepared.
The districts of Mayong and Laharighat were selected for the DNA. Laharighat is a backward riverine block, very prone to floods, and has a high Muslim minority population. Mayong is more urban and borders the neighbouring districts of Naugaon and Guwahati with a mixed population that includes tribals, Hindus and Muslims.
The study was conducted across 2 blocks in 18 villages with the use of participatory research methods to engage with children, adults and duty bearers at the village and block level.
Children in 61% villages reported the prevalence of abuse. They said that eve teasing, touching, using slang words are normal. In one village they said that there were almost 20 cases of sexual abuse in the last one year alone. They mentioned that pregnancies get terminated in secret. Yet, it was found that 84% of adults did not report child abuse.
We learnt that the chronic problem of destruction caused by floods has pushed children to share family burden from an early age. The prevalence of child labour was reported across 94% villages. Across 78% of villages it was observed that while girls are made responsible for household chores – sweeping, washing clothes, cooking, taking care of siblings, boys on the other hand are sent outside the district or state to earn money.
It was found that early marriage is a common practice across all villages, hence, communities do not complain. Fearing for the safety of their girls, or the lack of opportunity of finding a suitable match in later years, parents get their daughters married by the age of 13 or 14. Inadvertently, the first fall out of this is the end of education for most of them.
Additionally, it was found that there were more primary schools available with a greater number of children enrolled in them vis a vis middle or senior schools. The study seems to indicate a co-relation between children dropping out of school to join the labour force, or girls at risk of early marriage, and the lack of available higher education facilities.
Majority of children in the district of Morigaon begin to consume gutka, beedi, or alcohol before their teen years. Since children become contributing members to the family income early on, parents tend not to reprimand their children. Also there is a cultural acceptance of these habits as most adults also consume tobacco and beetle nut.
The examination of social protection facilities available in the the district found that many were inaccessible in Laharighat because of damage caused by floods. The community said that even the 108 ambulance service is unable to reach homes as the roads are destroyed, forcing women to give birth at home. Children are unable to use bicycles distributed under the Chief Minister’s Bicycle Scheme as the roads are laden with sand.
In schools the mid day meals are provided regularly. While rice is supplied in adequate quantities, funds for other ingredients like vegetables and cooking oil are not sufficient. Community members in 61% of villages said that the employment guaranteed to them under MNREGA was less than 10 days for the year as against the assured 100 days.
The study findings were discussed at a district level meeting convened by the Deputy Commissioner of Morigaon, Assam . A child protection plan was placed before the district. A journey has begun in Morigaon. It needs the active involvement of children, communities, civil society organizations and the administration. We believe when caring families, alert communities and responsive governments come together, children will be protected.