India: Career Counseling for Children at Shelter Care Homes in Kerala

Children who live in an environment of poverty are vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, substance abuse and discrimination. Lack of education further increases their vulnerabilities and risks. Children deserve a better future where their basic social rights like education, health and safety are protected and promoted. This becomes significant especially in the context of children of shelter care homes. A majority of them lack parental guidance necessary to help them understand their opportunities and make the right choices.

Under the collaborative effort of the Department of Social Welfare, Government of India (GoI), UNODC and civil societies in Kerala, a victim care support intervention in the Juvenile Home for Boys and After-Care Home in Kerala was initiated. This initiative is part of UNODC's victim support project on 'Reducing Children's Vulnerability to Abuse and Rehabilitation of Survivors'.

Within this project, a two day career guidance workshop was organised in Kerala in July 2009, which was attended by 91 boys and girls in the age group of 12 to 22 years. The children came from 13 different children's homes from 8 different cities across the state. Most of the participants were juvenile delinquents from broken homes, victims of alcoholic abuse in the family and had endured various kinds of abuse. The Workshop used the Career Guidance model of EduServe Consultants which focuses on understanding personality, recognizing potential and discovering vocations/careers with potential for employment.

One of the boys from the shelter care homes says, "An elaborate career guidance workshop for children from shelter care homes is a privilege as many organisations or the society at large may not perceive this as important for children from poor families. Also since the job market is very competitive, often career counselling is not free. Here we are guided carefully to understand our choices, build our personality, the opportunities that are available to us and how we can benefit from them effectively."

This unique initiative also reaches out to young girls in Kerala, who, because of social norms and pressures do not enjoy the basic rights to education and work opportunities since gender stereotype roles like child bearing and household work often rests with girls and women. Career counselling for girls is therefore instrumental in gradually reversing this trend and improving employment opportunities for girls and young women.

This life - changing project breaks down many of the barriers that could prevent each of these 91 children from economic and social opportunities. Tomorrow, there is every possibility that these children will grow up to be responsible citizens and competent enough to build a more secure environment for their children. To sustain this initiative, it is vital that the Government, the community and the civil society organizations continue to engage in this process.

UNODC work with shelter homes in India is possible through the contribution of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)