Jayanti was only 8 years old when my brother-in-law discovered her.
She had been working as a live-in domestic servant for the people next door in their small town in West Bengal. It was clear by her appearance that she had not been treated well. She was exhausted, malnourished and unkempt.
For over 2 million women and girls in India, domestic work is fueled by economic necessity, and despite the efforts of NGOs like the National Domestic Workers Movement and laws prohibiting child labor, the respectable industry remains largely unregulated.
Would you like to come live with a nice family? he asked her.
She nodded, sobbing.
My husband remembers the day when Jayanti arrived at their home. His sister was given the task of bathing the child and brushing her hair. She was outfitted with new clothes and treated as one of the children. Her chores included providing cups of water when requested and helping their mother in the kitchen.
In exchange, his family provided needed remuneration to her birth family. She was sent to school and got married in her twenties at my father-in-law’s expense. She still lives close to their home and visits with her baby often.
I wonder, sometimes, where she would have ended up if my brother-in-law hadn’t intervened. An estimated 25% of domestic workers in India are under the age of 14, and many of them aren’t so fortunate.
Can you imagine the kind of financial desperation a mother would have to be in to send her young daughter to work for strangers?
I get a lump in my throat thinking about it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children the world over had the freedom to be children? To play and to learn and to figure out who they want to become?
The Girl Effect is the radical, hopeful idea that the most effective solution to global poverty is investing in the education and safety of girls like Jayanti in the developing world. Investing in a girl will sometimes mean microfinancing her mother or older sister in order to free her to go to school. An educated girl is far more likely to send her own daughters to school…
And so it goes.
I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video below and share your thoughts. You are invited to post about the Girl Effect at your blog this week, read what others have written and add your link. We truly have more power than we think.