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Our impact, their stories

From brooms to books: Ranjita returns to school

Many choose migration to escape poverty for themselves and their families. The ILO’s Work in Freedom programme reduces vulnerability to trafficking of women and girls by supporting informed migration, fair recruitment and decent work.

Feature | 01 February 2017
Ranjita Kerketta
CHHATTISGARH, India (ILO News) – Ranjita Kerketta , 14, is ecstatic. “I love studying in school,” she says, with a glint in her eye. She has re-enrolled at her government middle school, which is located near her village in Sarguja, Chhattisgarh, India.

Ranjita is a bright young girl who wishes to pursue her education but was forced to drop out of her school at the age of 12 when she was in grade 6. Ranjita has been living with her brother and sister-in-law in a remote tribal hamlet, where most families depend on forest products for their livelihood. To make ends meet Ranjita’s brother sent her to Ambikapur city, a few hundred miles away from their home, to work as a domestic worker. Ranjita earned 1400 Indian rupees which is about US$20.75 a month.

“I hated working as a domestic worker. My employer abused me and forced me to work without any break throughout the day,” said Ranjita.

She recalled the abusive nature of her employer, and how she was forced to do jobs that she wasn’t good at, such as cooking. She would spend the entire day cleaning the house, washing dishes and running errands. Her employer would hardly provide her with sufficient food, even though it was her who did the cooking. She was forbidden to leave the house, meet or talk to anyone. She remained in complete isolation. Whenever she made any small mistake she was yelled at and treated poorly.

“There was not a single day that I didn’t cry,” said Ranjita.

Today Ranjita has a different story to tell. She beams with joy at the thought of going to school, without having to think about her past, where she was made to suffer a life of drudgery and constant abuse.

Her story was discovered by the field outreach workers of Samarthan, ILO-DFID’s implementing partner in the Work in Freedom programme. It was Ranjita’s sister-in-law, Asha Kerketta, who discreetly approached Samarthan for their assistance. The ‘Work in Freedom’ (WiF) programme aims at reducing vulnerability of people like Ranjita who are often victims to forced labour and trafficking in the South Asian countries.

Migration should be a choice

Ranjita is now at school
The programme works in both the source countries of Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and the destination countries of India, Jordan and Lebanon. It collaborates closely with the national and state governments of these countries, the trade unions and civil society partners.

It helps women access mobility by choice, promotes fair recruitment to decent jobs, and campaigns for dignity and decent work in destination countries, especially in sectors like domestic work and garment manufacturing. The programme is expected to impact positively the lives of nearly 200,000 women and girls by 2018. Samarthan – under the WiF programme – was conducting Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the village community. The survey by Samarthan was intended to find whether people in the village were migrating for work, their reasons for choosing migration, sources of livelihood and other issues. Discussions took place on how men and women undertake this migration journey and often find themselves stuck in underpaid jobs with poor working conditions.

Asha explained to the Samarthan team how her husband, who traveled to Ambikapur every month to meet Ranjita and collect her earnings, would see Ranjita in a very distressed state. During each visit Ranjita would plead with her brother to take her back home.

Asha was advised to approach her husband and speak firmly about her determination to get Ranjita back. It took a great deal of effort but Ranjita finally returned home. During the first two to three months of her return, Ranjita wasn’t her usual self. The once lively girl now was distant, and depressed. She’d often cry endlessly. Seeing this Asha was distraught.

Ranjita and her sister-in-law, Asha Kerketta
“The work she did in the city seemed to have taken an emotional toll on my sister-in-law. She doesn’t talk to anyone, and often she feels hopeless,” said Asha.

Samarthan stepped in again and counseled Ranjita. After repeated counseling sessions, Ranjita began to regain her cheerful spirit. She slowly opened up to her family members.

Samarthan regularly organizes pre-decision training sessions for potential women migrants to help them make informed choices. Ranjita has been invited for these trainings to share her experience.

When the training leader asked Ranjita as to what is the one thing she would like to do? Ranjita replied instantly “Go back to my school.”

With support of the local school teachers, Ranjita attends her classes at the nearby government school regularly now. She enjoys her studies and interacting with her classmates. Not only did Ranjita overcome traumatic conditions in early childhood but today she serves as an inspiration to many girls in her community.