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Canada launches child sex abuse project in Gujarat, says it will not tolerate shrinking space for civil society

Deepak Obhrai with Utthan's Nafisa Barot
By Our Representative
A top Canadian representative, in Gujarat to attend the high-profile Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and the Vibrant Gujarat business summit (January 7-12), has said that the Canadian government will not sit quiet if the space for civil society in India shrinks. “In case this happens, we will not hesitate to tell about this to the government”, said Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai, a Government of India invitee for the two top events. Also Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights, Canada, Obhrai added, “Human rights is a Canadian priority. We have pointed towards weak areas in India the spots at the UN Commission Human Rights.”
Awarded in 2009 the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, highest honour to an overseas Indian, Obhrai was answering questions from mediapersons on Canadian view of shrinking space of civil society in India under the Modi government, and what is Canada, a Commonwealth country like India, doing about it. He was in Ahmedabad to declare the release of a $23,000 Canada government-funded projecte on sexual exploitation of children, launched in Gujarat last month by state-based NGO Utthan. The project began close on the heels of a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) report saying that 63 per cent of Gujarat girls have reported sexual abuse, highest in the country (click HERE to read).
Talking with newspersons about the project, an Utthan spokesperson said, the NGO has begun the project in the second half of last month in 100 villages of six districts in Gujarat -- Bhavnagar, Amreli, Dahod, Mahisagar, and Panchmahals. “An awareness campaign is on to tell communities about the need to understand sexual exploitation of children, both boys and girls, what it means to society, and how to fight against it”, the spokesperson said, adding, “We have found good response all over, with several schools, including private and government, wanting training programmes to be carried out about basic sex education with high school-going children.”
Utthan campaign in Vevera village, Amreli district
Utthan director Nafisa Barot said, during the campaign, the NGO found that, shockingly, the police or even the Justice Committees, operating under the auspices of community-based organizations, have not received any complaints about sexual abuse. “Child abuse is shrouded in secrecy. There is a conspiracy of silence around the entire subject. However, in personal talks, we found questions being raised about it. We hope people will slowly come out and speak following the campaign launched by us. We are compiling facts on sexual exploitation of children. So far, however, nobody is wanting to speak out openly against it”, Barot said.
Apart from communities, the programme involved providing training to teachers about sexual abuse of children. “In all, 90 teachers have taken part in special workshops we organized for them. During our campaigns, there were also voices about teachers being culprit in sexual abuse”, the Utthan spokesperson said. Asked why was Canada interested in funding the project in India, Obhrai explained, “We are supporting the fight against early marriage, abortion without consent, child sex exploitation, sexual violence and such other issues around the world. The problems are universal, and we believe in working with government and NGOs on these.”
An official release on the Canada-supported project said, “Utthan’s project aims to raise awareness and sensitivity about child sexual violence and exploitation, including breaking the stigma about rape and abuse of victims across 100 villages in coastal and tribal districts of Gujarat. This will be supported and sustained through the mobilization of a cadre of local leaders including doctors, teachers, police, panchayats and parents.”
It added, “Through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), Canada provides small amounts of funding to local non-governmental organizations and community groups worldwide. In India, Canada is working with local communities and governments to address sexual violence, women and girl’s empowerment and other grassroots needs.”

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