Many of the children in Goa work long hours every day just to survive. From a young age, the lure of music and bright lights can draw boys into bar jobs.
Abel is 13 and told me he went to school, however this was hard to believe as he worked every day in one of the beach bars in Baga. Working in bars was a popular choice of employment for young boys. Although having long hours (8am – 2am) Abel loved his job at the bar and often served alcohol. In the beach bars, young boys often join at 13 and never leave. Abel was the new recruit of Zanzibar and now spent all of his time, including sleeping, at the shack. Most of the older boys at the bar had tattoos of Zanzibar and Abel obviously looked up to his new family.
When investigating children workers in Goa, Abel kept appearing. Bar work was only Abel’s first job; he also sold jewellery on the beach. He kept very quiet about this as he feared the outcome of the police. Other children selling things could flee the beach from the police but this was his home.
At around 1am, Abel was spotted handing out leaflets for a beauty parlour. He told me he had finished at the bar and only worked for an hour in the evenings in the city of Calungute.
Abel is a quiet and reserved young boy. He is very untrusting of tourists and was obviously wise beyond his years as he never spends time with other children. The bar has provided Abel with income and shelter though has kept him from childhood and education.
Child weddings are also closely related to slum life. Girls as young as 11 are married, despite the legal age of marriage in India being 18. There was a story in one of Goa’s slums, Crossroads, of a 12 year old girl who was married off to a man in
Marahastra. Her whole family moved away from the slum with her but later returned without her. They came to The Mango House to seek help as they had heard she was being beaten by her new husband. Two members from Children
Walking Tall, along with her family, set out on a four hour journey to rescue her.
On arriving in Marahastra, they found the corrugated shack where the girl was living
with her husband. The girl was well but eager to escape from her new life, unfortunately her new in-laws were not so keen to lose her. Thirty villagers and relatives came to prevent the escape of the girl and soon called the police to assist.
On arrival, the police threatened to arrest the workers from Children Walking Tall on grounds of attempted kidnapping. They agreed to travel to the local police station to discuss the matter. Although having travelled with the girl’s legal guardian and proof that the girl was a minor, the police argued that the wedding had happened and that the girl now belonged to the man despite being too young for the wedding to have happened.
After various threats by the police, including court, they accepted that Children Walking Tall would not back down and agreed to let them leave uncharged. They even allowed the girl to return to her home in Goa and she is now back in The Mango House school where she has learned to sew.
Ela was 12 when she was in a terrible accident. She was cooking when her dress caught on fire, panicking she ran outside where her neighbours poured water on her to put out the flames. Unfortunately this was just one version of events reported by her family. A version, more likely to be the truth, was that she had had an argument with her alcoholic father. Upset, Ela poured petrol on herself before striking a match. Children Walking Tall had heard of the accident and visited her in hospital as soon as they could. Both the state of Ela and the state of her care was appalling. Despite suffering severe burns to 75% of her body, Ela was lying in a general ward (burn victims should always be on an isolated ward to prevent infection). Her raw skin had not been cleaned or dressed, she had no pain relief and the sheets she was lying on were covered in blood stains from other patients.
Children Walking Tall ensured her sheets were changed and made sure she was washed and wounds dressed but knew they had to pay for her to be taken to a special burns unit in another hospital if she was to survive. By the time they had arranged an ambulance and bed for Ela, her condition had deteriorated and she was given just two days to live by the specialist. However, with the determination of Ela and the specialist care of the hospital, her condition improved from barely a pulse to a healthy young woman. Luckily Ela’s burns were on areas that could be covered and her face and hands remained untouched, she has gone from strength to strength and still keeps in close contact with the people who saved her life.
Listen to her story as told by Rob from the charity.