Child Prostitution in India

In the southern pan of India, thousands of very young girls are dedicated every year to the Goddess Yellamma. They are called devadasis or “Servants of God”. These girls account for an average of 15% of Indian prostitutes and up to 80% of those prostitutes living in the south.

The little girls are generally designated by a woman from their own village, who often enters into a trance names them specifically. They are later dedicated or ‘married’ to the Goddess Yellama and sold, at puberty, in an auction called the “touching ceremony.” Their new master, the first man to “touch” them, pays the girl’s parents, who in this way benefit financially from their child’s consecration. From then on the girls’ religion obliges them to amuse men in order to receive Yellamma’s blessing: a religious justification is therefore virtually pushing them into prostitution.

Once dedicated to the Goddess, these young girls can no longer marry They serve the master who first bought them, and all those who follow. Often they move to larger cities where they prostitute themselves for a living. In Bombay, 15% of the prostitutes are devadasis; in Delhi, Nagpur and Hyderbad, 1O%; in Pune, 50% and in southern parts of India, 70 to 80%.

In these cities their living conditions are very bad: they are often up to 10 sharing a room; they eat poorly, receive no medical treatment and know nothing about birth control or sexually-transmitted diseases. Moreover, they only receive about 20% (US$ 20) of what they earn, all the rest being distributed to the brothel owners and managers, pimps and police.

Every year approximately 10,000 young girls are dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma this way. Up to 88% of the girls are younger than 10 years of age. They usually come from extremely poor families who need the money from the sale of their daughter. They are often of low caste, uneducated and superstitious families, who hope to protect themselves from illness or gain personal privilege through their daughter’s consecration.

Some traditional families are proud of the designation; others are forced into accepting it through community pressure.

In India today different groups of people are organising ways of putting an end to such practices. The Joint Women’s Programme began a mass campaign in 1990 which includes: making propaganda material decrying the practice; a spot survey on the dedications; a National Convention to mobilise public opinion and presentation of a street drama on the devadasi problem. The Programme’s first study of this problem was in 1981 and led to the promulgation of the Karnataka Devadasis Bill (Prohibition of Dedications). Since then, several follow-up programmes have been conducted through propaganda, protest meetings, health programmes and other ways.

From Drs. I.S. Gilada and Vijay Thakur of the Indian Health Organisation and the Joint Women’s Programme Communiqué.