India Indian Diaspora

On a mission for child rights

K. UMASHANKER

 
Dhana Sekaran with spouse Srilatha campaigning for child literacy at a tribal hamlet near Palamaner in Chittoor district.
THE HINDUDhana Sekaran with spouse Srilatha campaigning for child literacy at a tribal hamlet near Palamaner in Chittoor district.

Protection of children from multiple ways of exploitation is possible and will be more effective only when they are rescued during the formative years of their life, so goes the philosophy of a Chittoor-based couple.

The couple now in their early fifties — K. Dhana Sekaran and P. Srilatha – is familiar with over thousands of families in hundreds of villages in the western mandals of the district which the couple had extensively visited during the last 25 years, establishing rapport with grassroot communities of tribal hamlets, Dalitwadas, and urban slums. The Rural Organization for Poverty Eradication Services (ROPES), operating from Bangarupalem, 20 km from here, and the brainchild of the couple, is going to celebrate its silver jubilee this year.

Mr. Dhana Sekaran, a product of Sri Venkateswara University (SVU), was moved at the rural poverty and high dropout rate among schoolchildren, when he was working as warden at a social welfare hostel in Tiruvannamalai of Tamil Nadu in 1984. Quitting his job, he concentrated on developmental studies, and detected that the western mandals of Chittoor district, a few kilometres away from the district headquarters, were subject to social evils of child marriages, child abuse, trafficking and poverty.

He pleaded with illiterate parents not to subject their children to any kind of exploitation by denying them their right to education. His spouse, working as lecturer at a government nursing college, too, left her job and joined the mission, travelling with him.

Remarkable changeDuring the last 25 years, the couple had brought remarkable change in the mindset of thousands of vulnerable families, and protected their children, most of whom are now settled in various walks of life. Their purview also covered oppressed women, unemployed youth, small farmers and communities below the poverty line in Chittoor district and the north-western parts of Tamil Nadu.

“Our focal intervention is devoted for protection of child rights and ensuring rescue, restoration and rehabilitation of the exploited. We go by targets of early childhood education, enrolment of all children in schools, reducing school dropouts and active right to education campaign,” Mr. Dhana Sekaran said.

Going toughThe couple said that in the initial days of their campaign, they found the going tough with stiff resistance from parents and perpetrators of child abuse and trafficking. In the last two years alone, the duo stopped as many as 53 child marriages in the district, followed by rescuing of 120 child labourers, including 32 girls below the age of 15 from sexual exploitation. Their organisation shelters over 100 children, including orphans, HIV/AIDS affected and juvenile delinquents. Educational programmes were held for thousands of students and teachers.

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