Priya (name changed) is a victim of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, residing in a CCI since May 2018. Priya’s case was transferred to Prerana from another organisation through an Order passed by the Child Welfare Committee in May 2019. After a Social Investigation was conducted by the Team, it was known that Priya’s mother had passed away a few years ago and she used to live with her father, Kalash (name changed) and brother, Pankaj (name changed). In the absence of the mother, the family was dependent on Priya to manage the household chores (the family saw her as a substitute to the role played by her mother) and Kalash constantly blamed the system for keeping his daughter away from him. Kalash was often seen at the Child Welfare Committee, requesting for the custody of his child. Meanwhile, Priya would also make requests to be restored to her family.
While planning interventions for Priya, the Team discussed the possibilities of restoration while focusing on in depth and regular follow ups with the child and her family. Counseling sessions with Priya and Kalash had begun and group sessions with the social worker, counselor, child and her family were also conducted. As per the information provided by the reports submitted by the previous organisation, it was clear that the family wasn’t involved in pushing the child in the sex trade. However, the emotional dependence of the family on the child was observed. Kalash cared and loved his daughter but there was a lack of understanding of the needs of the child. It was also observed by the team that Kalash was of the opinion that women were not as capable as men and their prime role was to get married and look after the house. There were times when Kalash requested the social worker to restore Priya back home as he wasn’t well and needed her to cook and take care of him. After working with Priya and Kalash for over four months, discussing challenges that Priya felt she would face at home and possible ways she could deal with them, Priya was restored to her family in September, 2019.
After the restoration, during Priya’s interactions with the social worker, she would share finding it difficult to deal with situations at home. She would talk about having to work more than she was able to and not being able to manage work at home and going to the training center where she was being provided educational and vocational training. Priya also shared about frequent fights at home if she came home late or if she would spend time talking to her friends on the phone. During interactions with Kalash and Pankaj, it was observed that they were buying material items like a phone or a washing machine for her, to show that they cared but they assumed that it would compensate for her emotional needs of affection from the family. Sessions were conducted where efforts to make them understand that purchasing expensive goods for the child wasn’t as important as them and being more involved in Priya’s life by spending time with her or asking her about her day. These were ways in which Priya was seeking affection from her family.
In December 2019, on Priya’s request to the CWC, she was placed in an re-institutionalised. Interventions with Priya and her family continued. While the family didn’t seem to understand the child’s perspective and concerns, Priya remained confused between wanting to live with her family or staying at an institution. Due to the COVID19 imposed lockdown, there were restrictions on restoration of children back to their families in the first two months of the lockdown. Priya expressed the desire to go to an Aftercare Home where she felt she would be able to pursue her goals of becoming a chef. However, she would also feel guilty about not being with her family since her father wasn’t keeping well.
On a Sunday evening in June, the social worker received a call from Kalash stating that Pankaj had blood cancer and that they had just found out about the same. Kalash requested for assistance and insisted that Priya should be restored. The social worker shared that she would link Kalash to organizations providing medication and other forms of assistance but informed him that immediate restoration of Priya wasn’t a possibility.
Within two days, Pankaj’s health got worse and he passed away. The social worker conveyed this news to Priya. It was very difficult to break this news to her and talk to her family. The child and her family blamed the system and the social worker for keeping Priya away from her family. Arrangements were made for Priya to go home after coordination with the CWC, Home staff and the family. The Team stayed in touch with the child and her family after her restoration. The family was linked with organizations providing monetary assistance and the Team provided ration to the family. Priya called the social worker after two days and asked for a job and she was linked to an organization providing the same.
For a social worker, it was a difficult situation. The decisions had been taken keeping the child’s best interest in mind, and after taking her consent. The COVID19 imposed lockdown made it difficult to work with the child and family through visits, and telephonic conversations delayed the process of rehabilitation of the child. The social worker was left with an uneasy thought by the end – that it took a death in the child’s family to restore her amid the pandemic when all restorations had been halted due to the prevailing situation. The best interest of the child, or her rehabilitation had not been a priority for the system but must be looked into. A pandemic must not lead to suspension of due processes for children in need of care and protection.