On 16 April 2023, our helpline for children celebrated 20 years of excellence, managing over 16,000 cases in the past two decades.
One of the strengths of Snehalaya is adapting to meet the needs of women and children who could be exploited into sex work, under the mantra of: “Every woman and child should have the right to a life free from inequality, cruelty & discrimination”. Since 1989, when Dr Girish Kulkarni took two children of a sex worker away from the risks of the red light area for a few hours each day, Snehalaya has expanded to 23 projects aimed at empowering women and children. Our work has evolved in ways the young Girish could never have imagined but always in response to every new challenge we have faced along the way.
Our mission remains firmly grounded in the red light areas, empowering sex workers and their children. Working with them has helped us understand the underlying challenges and the hurdles in our fight against sex rackets, pimps, brothel owners and others. Having witnessed first-hand the victimisation and luring of minors and women into sex work, the realities of life in red-light areas, the modus operandi of middlemen, and the risks to runaways and lost children. In 1997, we responded by establishing a helpline for both women and children.
In 2003, when the national Childline India Foundation (CIF) was established, Snehalaya joined forces with the network using the universal 1098 toll-free number. Since then, this has served as the contact for all children in distress, with all calls from our district requiring intervention being redirected to our Childline team.
Guaranteeing the rights and protection of children and creating a child-friendly nation has been our motto since our inception. We have been pioneers in educating allied agencies such as the police, lawyers, government officials and local volunteers on child rights. Outreach work focuses on communities, schools and colleges where lack of information on child rights and issues such as child marriage and labour are most prevalent. By creating a strong network, we have curbed violence against children with a strong and aware support system on the ground.
Our Childline team has addressed some of the highest-profile cases in the history of Childline India Foundation. We are most famous for the 2006 case, in which our Childline exposed a sex scandal involving minors forced into sex work by high-profile men, representing the who’s who of Ahmednagar at the time. Thanks to the perseverance, sensitivity, compassion, energy and vigour of our team, all 11 criminals were sentenced to double life imprisonment.
Following this landmark case, we gave ourselves the task of ensuring our district would be free of minors working in the flesh trade. Working with our other projects, our Childline focused on the task promoting our services to children and communities. Today we are proud that this has become a reality!
In 2013, we held a nationwide summit of all organisations working in child welfare and protection. Over 300 attendees included stalwarts and activists such as Drs Pravin and Priti Patkar, Anna Hazare, Aamir Khan and members of DWCD, CWC and allied government organisations. They heard from victims sharing their own personal experiences as well as organisational heads sharing their views about the effects of natural calamities, economic challenges, cultural practices and social conditions that lead to human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and children.
In 2015, Snehalaya’s Childline was named the best-performing helpline in India. This was partly due to our unique ‘Night Rounds’. Operating every single night of the year, our team visits public places, including bus stands and railway stations, searching for lost or runaway children and abandoned babies. Over the years, our Childline has recruited hundreds of volunteers to help identify vulnerable children.
Our Childline has also served as a great training ground for many of our team, producing many dedicated social workers and some of our finest crusaders against social injustice. Two of our directors, Anil Gawade and Hanif Shaikh have headed the team, and others such as Ajay Wable, Deepak Buram, Yashwant Kurapati and Balasaheb Warule have also been promoted from within the Childline team to lead their own projects and work at higher levels in our organisation.
Former Childline team member, Pravin Kadam, now leads our Udaan project. Child marriage has always been a burning issue in our district and was further inflamed during the pandemic. In response, we created this new and focused project to work with Childline to prevent child marriage by educating adults and children on the marriage act and child rights and the consequences against all involved. It also works with the marriage industry, such as caterers, decorators, priests, who can help alert them to potential child marriages as well as the police who rescue children from marriage ceremonies and file cases against the accused.