Shaheen: A Long Way Home

Girls putting hands in together, India

When she was just 15, Shaheen fell in love with a man who betrayed her in the most horrifying way. Giving up her life and family, Shaheen ran away from her home in Bihar, India, to marry the man she loved, but months later he took her to Mumbai and sold her in the red-light district.

Eventually Shaheen was rescued through State intervention and brought to a rescue home in Mumbai, where Child Welfare Committees (CWC) and the Child Welfare Officials (CWOs) were thinking about her recovery and return plan.

But the choices were limited because Shaheen’s family were reluctant to take her back and so remained non-committal about how they would support her if she did return. Those taking care of Shaheen ruled out returning her back home where she would be extremely vulnerable to further harm, especially given the fact that it was a remote village across the country where child protection systems are scarce.

Hearing that she would end up in a long stay government home instead of going back to family, Shaheen withdrew, became aggressive and resorted to self-harm. When the road ahead seemed gloomy for Shaheen, it was the intervention brought about by our anti-trafficking work in India that cast a ray of light.

This came in the form of a comprehensive care and reintegration plan from our partner organisation Aangan, to supports the work of the Child Welfare Committees. Initially Shaheen needed mental health support and so Aangan brought in a counsellor to help her through a difficult phase. As she stabilised, Aangan facilitated a link between a partner NGO in Shaheen’s home district who were tasked with visiting Shaheen’s home and presenting a report.

The report revealed that whilst there was generally a supportive environment from her mother and siblings, Shaheen’s father feared social stigma and it seemed he might consider the option of sending her away from family to relatives – placing her in danger again.

Identifying the need for some work to be done with Shaheen’s family, Aangan facilitated discussions between all parties now involved in Shaheen’s care and together identified a family member who could provide support for Shaheen’s father. This was Shaheen’s auntie, through whom Aangan coordinated the discussions with the family and Shaheen.

Simultaneously, Shaheen was supported through creating a care plan to prepare for the challenges of village life back home – remoteness and boredom that could make Shaheen vulnerable to re-trafficking.

Aangan also worked with the Child Welfare Committees in Mumbai to put in place a system to track and follow up with the Welfare team in Shaheen’s village.

Six months later, the tracking process continues. Though Shaheen did not return to school immediately, she was encouraged by the local teams to take up a course to spend her day learning something useful. Now she is tailoring, excited about earning some money and her father is very proud of her progress.

After such a traumatic ordeal, it has been a long way home for Shaheen, but our anti-trafficking work has ensured that she was fully supported every step of the way.