In EJC basti, a slum near the under-construction Metro line in Taratolla, Kolkata, a group of children which calls itself Shaktiman, are combating child labour and stopping child marriage. Having lost out on school themselves, they even try and send dropouts back to school.Named after the famous Indian superhero, the group was started by 15-year old Soni Khatun and her neighbour Saraswati Dhanuk, also 15, six years ago.
The two would go around the slum, knocking on doors with a notebook, looking for children and asking them whether or not they went to school or whether their families plan on getting them married.
Joined by 13 other girls, each one from the group would talk to children and note down their responses. "Once we identify a child working in a garage or not going to school, we form a group and visit their homes. We talk to the parents and convince them to send the child to school. Initially, no one would listen to us. But then, we started collecting people to support us. Now, everyone accepts us,” Soni told the Indian Express.
Shaktiman is a collaborative effort by the Government of West Bengal, Sarva Shiksha Mission and Save the Children, an NGO. The efforts have yielded significant results. “Recently, we identified seven children working in garages in our area and were able to send four of them to schools. Before that, we managed to send 13 children, who were all dropouts, back to school. We also stopped two child marriages,” Soni added.The children are all trained in child rights and tackle cases of child labour, manual scavenging and also assist victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. The group has created waves around the entire city. 183 children below the age of 19 are now active in 14 slum areas in Kolkata, under the jurisdiction of Kolkata Municipal Corporation.