Sent out to work, often in hazardous jobs, and prey to casual brutality, substance use and exploitation, the lived realities of adolescent boys are fraught with risk. Young boys are expected to provide for the family and become contributing adults long before they are ready or able. The compulsions this imposes, in addition to societal expectations to be a certain kind of ‘man’, and their own need to be accepted by the peer group, creates a volatile landscape that puts young boys at grave risk of getting involved in dangerous, hazardous and illegal work and activities, being trafficked, running away, using drugs and alcohol, and endangering themselves in other ways.
Through Chauraha (Crossroads), adolescent boys are connected to mentorship and a positive peer group; they are supported to challenge normative perceptions of manhood; to recognise the protection risks they face in their lives and exercise agency; articulate aspirations and create life plans; identify and strengthen relationships with supportive adults; and negotiate for themselves to take steps towards realising their life goals.
Perceived as workers or troublemakers, the vulnerabilities of adolescent boys largely go unaddressed. Through group and individual work and community events, boys learn to recognize and articulate risk, take steps towards reframing their image of themselves and come to be recognized as change makers in the community.
Chauraha believes that a boy who is safe and supported will be empowered to act positively for himself, his family, his peers and his community.
How Chauraha works
Through positive peer networks or Chauraha groups, boys come together to have conversations on gender stereotypes and the subsequent pressure it creates to conform. Through a series of activities, they discuss gender and socialisation and reflect on how it influences the way they see themselves and the image they want to project. They think about self respect and about caring for themselves and embark on a process of reimagining. At group sessions, boys also talk about their rights, make educational and vocational plans and develop negotiation skills. In the process, they come to identify risk, support persons to turn to, and develop strategies to resist peer pressure, to build positive relationships, to express themselves at home and access key services such as de-addiction, government schools, vocational training opportunities or hospitals.
Through individual work, boys are mentored to make plans to address the individual risks they face. Parent engagement is key to individual work as most Chauraha boys are working boys, whose families rely on them for income, sometimes even survival. Boys are estranged from their families at a young age – even when they live together. They are unsupervised and have to learn to fend for themselves in an adult world without any support. Chauraha facilitates conversations between boys and their family to enable them to articulate their hopes and aspirations.
Boys participate in community events and group projects in which they act as drivers of change by engaging with state services and authorities (such as education officers, ward officers, the police, etc.). Through initiatives such as working with the block education officer and community elders to enrol children in school, advocating with the ward officer to improve health and sanitation facilities, and mobilizing community support to ensure the safety of children, boys learn to exercise citizenship. In the process, they come to develop a sense of self respect that is reinforced by how they are viewed in the community.