Ostracized from the community after her father contracted leprosy, Punam and her family were forced to turn to begging to support themselves. Read about this brave teenager’s struggle with physical and sexual abuse, her return to education and her determination to avoid the pitfalls of child marriage after attending Shakti sessions.
She was only 4-and-a-half years old when she was exposed to the harsh realities of life on the streets, frequently moving with her family from one town to another. When her mother was diagnosed with leprosy some years later, her parents feared that the disease might spread to the children, and began the process of getting their daughters married at the young ages of 13 and 14.
However, help was at hand. Punam’s parents found treatment at the Ram Nagar Leprosy Ashram in Patna and the family finally found shelter in a community with others like them. But no sooner did the young Punam find friends and start going to school, than her family discouraged her from attending classes, sending her instead to her sisters’ houses to help with their pregnancies. There, she was also put to work on construction sites and as a domestic help, substituting for her sisters as they tended to their newborns.
After being subjected to constant physical and sexual abuse by both her temporary employers and her brother-in-law, Punam decided to return to her parents, never to go back to her sisters’ again. But the situation at home wasn’t very different. Physical abuse and alcoholism characterized her home environment and she was also restricted from moving out into the community as her parents were looking to get her married at the tender age of 14. It was while scouting the community for the Shakti program that our facilitator came into contact with Punam. Though initially irregular, her attendance in Shakti sessions improved and she began to speak out and get more actively involved. And that’s not all. Punam returned to school on 25th July 2011 and attends tuition classes at NLRF (Netherlands Leprosy Relief Foundation). We are happy to report that Punam has decided not to be a child bride, but instead wants to educate herself and support her parents. This brave, young girl has truly turned her life around.