On the occasion of International Women's Day, celebrated globally on 8th March every year, our Office is happy to present the following story about a unique livelihood program initiated by the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), an NGO in Jharkhand state, India. By providing employment to young girls and women in the region, many of whom are survivors of trafficking, the initiative not only aims to secure their livelihoods, but also protect them from human trafficking.

India: Securing livelihoods to safeguard against human trafficking

With the click of her heel and a deft movement of her arm, Pooja salutes and says "Good afternoon ma'am". She cheerfully brings forward the sign-in register and asks if she can check my bag. She then leads me into the office cum shelter home of the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) in New Delhi. Pooja, who is around 20 years old, works as a security guard with the BKS, an NGO based in the state of Jharkhand, India. "We are a poor family from Jharkhand", says Pooja. "My parents work at a brick kiln. Few years back, due to extreme financial constraints, I came to Delhi to work as a maid and earn a living. However, my work conditions were miserable and I went back home. I was without a job and did not know what to do. Around that time I came to know that the BKS was starting a programme to train girls like me as security guards. After going through a three month long training, I got a job in the BKS Ranchi office, where I worked for a year. Then I was sent to New Delhi along with two other girls to work as a security guard for nearly six months at the Jharkhand Bhawan, a Government institution. After that I was placed here in Delhi at the BKS office. I have been working here since the last three months.

With a large tribal population, Jharkhand is a high source state for human trafficking in India. Here, BKS along with its partner NGO network, rescues and rehabilitates victims of trafficking, providing them with education, counseling and livelihood support. "There is a huge demand for girls from Jharkhand to work as domestic help, labourers and so on and they are sold for as little as one thousand rupees," says Sanjay Mishra, the director of BKS. "And even after we rescue trafficked victims, they are very vulnerable to being trafficked again. So we realized that securing their livelihoods is the key to break this cycle. We started exploring various livelihood options and came up with the idea of training them as security guards and housekeeping staff. We collaborated with Government agencies like the Jharkhand police and the Labour Department, corporate houses and UNODC and rolled out the initiative in December 2007. Today almost 230 girls are working as security guards and housekeeping staff with various corporate houses and Government organizations across the country"

Basanti is another girl from Jharkhand who was trained as a security guard and works with Pooja in New Delhi. "I never imagined that I would work as a  security guard. I previously worked in Delhi as a maid, with a mistress who always scolded and beat me, no matter how well I did my work. I managed to run away from her, but was caught by the police. The police informed BKS about me, who brought me back to Jharkhand and my family. I then went through the training as a security guard and have been working since May 2010. During our course, we learnt how we should conduct ourselves, how we should remain vigilant at work, what are our responsibilities as security guards... We were also given intensive training in judo and karate - as a means of protecting ourselves and others."

Pooja and Basanti live together at the BKS office cum shelter home in New Delhi. Along with their duties as security guards, they also manage the upkeep of the office. They even assist BKS in their rescue operations for children and young people who were trafficked. "We are happy that we are earning in a secure environment and that we can also protect other people", says Pooja. "We are able to earn for ourselves and also send money to our families. Since we are not educated, we really want to do this job well."

"The beginning wasn't easy", says Sanjay Mishra. "The biggest challenge was ensuring job placements and their safety. The girls would be on their own at the workplace, who would ensure their safety? So we trained them to protect themselves through judo and karate. We told them to carry chilli powder with them for self-defense. Some of the girls initially had problems at work. So we would counsel them and keep their morale high. At first, none of the organizations were open to the idea of girls working as security guards. We had a lot of convincing to do and demonstrate by example. However, with sustained advocacy and gradual support from the media, the initiative has taken off and we are regularly conducting training programmes for many more girls. Through regular advocacy, we have managed to sensitize the police, the judiciary and the government about human trafficking. However, people will always be vulnerable to trafficking unless they have better livelihood opportunities. So this is the area we that we want to further strengthen. We have already started training programmes for motor driving and next, we want to start training the girls as nurses."

BKS is the Jharkhand chapter of ATSEC (Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children), a network of NGOs that are working to prevent sexual exploitation and human trafficking, especially of women and children. UNODC's work with ATSEC and BKS has been possible thanks to the contribution of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Read some of the recent news articles about this initiative:

The Telegraph, Kolkata: Trafficking survivors turn guards

The Telegraph, Kolkata: 20 winners off the tracks- Pride in uniform

India Today Magazine: A brand new life

The Times of India: Jharkhand's loss is Bihar's gain