From sexual abuse to abduction to negligence, Indian children face harsh realities - ignored by society and the system.
Seema - National Capital Region
For 14-year-old Seema (name changed), the past one year has been a struggle. The young girl, living in Shahbad Dairy, fled home after her brother saw her talking to a boy and hit her for the 'misdemeanor'.
Fearing another beating, she ended up at New Delhi Railway Station. Once there she realised it was a mistake and tried to head back. Penniless, she asked a PCO booth owner to allow her a free call which he refused.
"She was scared and lonely. Two women offered her tea laced with sedatives and kidnapped her," says Nazma, member of Nav Shristhi, an NGO working with Child Rights and You.
Seema woke to a locked room where the women would bring a different man daily, coercing her to marry them. After three days, Seema realised marrying either one was her key to freedom.
Sold for Rs. 70,000, Seema was taken to Ghaziabad as an unwilling bride. Here, she managed to get a message to her brother. Nazma and her team, with the police, rescued the girl. She now lives in Delhi Government's Nirmal Chaya Home for girls.
"It took us a long time to get this story from Seema. She underwent a lot of trauma - mental, physical and sexual. She is still recovering," says Nazma.
Seema may have escaped but other girls were similarly sold.
"For every girl that is rescued, there are hundreds who slip through the cracks," Nazma adds.
-- Mallica Joshi
Anjana - Uttar Pradesh
She was constantly scolded and bashed for small mistakes. Her head was rammed against the wall when she expressed the wish to go home. Toiling for over six months, she was denied proper food and payment.
This is not a cautionary tale narrated to scare little children. It is a real life nightmare that 14-year-old Anjana (name changed) had to face for months while working as a domestic help in a house in Delhi.
Daughter of a mason from Ramgarh village in Hazirabagh district, Anjana discontinued her studies after her mother died. Life was not so easyfor the girl after her father remarried and brought a stepmother home; and one day it became worse. Anjana was sold by her neighbour as domestic help to a house in Delhi.
The girl's plight came to light when she was brought to Childline Lucknow by Vishwanath Gupta, a resident of Gomti Nagar. Gupta had met Anjana in a train on his way back from Delhi some months ago. She wept inconsolably, wanting to go home.
The people who 'bought' her had taken a few girls from the village with the promise that they would be paid well and stay together.
But Anjana says they were sold to different houses. For more than six months, Anjana continued to serve her masters, who didn't just exploit her physically but also traumatised her mentally. They would brutally beat her while reminding her of the price for which they had bought her.
Anjana says that every time she failed to satisfy the master, he would threaten to sell her into flesh trade. But one night, when the masters were asleep, Anjana escaped.
Anshumali Sharma, director Childline Lucknow confirmed that the girl was re-united with her family. She now lives with them in her village say the volunteers of Childline.
P Rani - Tamil Nadu
Like any normal day, P Rani was noting down what the teacher had written on the blackboard in Nadar Saraswathi Primary School, Theni district. That was the last time she could see things clearly. The teacher ordered the class monitor to punish her. The obedient monitor swung a steel ruler that hit Rani's eye. Her eyeball came out of the socket and blood started oozing out.
"I lost one eye and the other is weak," says Rani now 15, who still wonders what she did wrong.
Today, she can't study for long as fluid begins to ooze out of her eye which starts to hurt.
"When I see other girls, I get depressed," adds Rani.
After the incident in 2006, her parents, who are daily wagers, moved the court. They are in a legal battle to make the school and teacher pay.
A Krishnamurthy, senior advocate says, "Her plea for compensation is yet to come up. Before that the school has to respond."
So far no one has come to represent them. Moreover the teacher who ordered the punishment continues in the same school.
P Krishnamoorthy, Associate GM, CRY, says it is time that children are given their rights. CRY teamed up with a local NGO Tamil Nadu Samay Kalvi Iyyakam to bear the family's legal expenses.
"I want my tragedy to be a lesson for society to be more careful with children, and to restrain from corporal punishment," says Rani with undying determination.
-- KV Lakshmana
Lakpa And Naocha - Manipur
In Manipur, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a main factor leading to child victimisation. Lakpa and Naocha were little more than children when the virus made them orphans.
"I was in Class VII and Naocha was in nursery when our parents died between 1999 and 2001," says Lakpa, now 19.
Naocha turned 16 last month. Their father, an ironsmith, was an intravenous drug user. He gave the virus to his wife and son, Naocha. Lakpa, a promising sports player, is unaffected.
"We were too young to know their illness," he says.
The last decade has been an uphill struggle. The brothers have had to take on household responsibilities. They make knives and kitchen items for their livelihood.
Though many children know of HIV/AIDS through awareness programmes by NGOs, they are yet to comprehend how they are affected or infected, and their vulnerabilities.
"Due to lack of data, materials and trained hands, we are at a loss when it comes to dealing with children," says L Deepak, former president of Manipur Network of Positive People, a network of more than 1600 persons living with HIV/AIDS.
"Children's issues should not be left out while framing policy."
H Santi (40), mother of an HIV positive girl in Imphal says, "It's challenging for a mother like me to make them understand relationships with boys, not to speak of pre-marital sex".
-- Sobhapati Samom