Pedalling for a cause

Pedalling for a cause
Silvester Stalin, a mechanical engineer who quit his job in 2015 to dedicate his time for social causes, happened to pass through Kolkata’s Sonagachi, the largest red-light district in the country. The standard of living of the tiny tots born to sex workers and the thought of their pre-scripted agonising future motivated Silvester to initiate a movement for the welfare of such children.

On returning to his hometown, Bengaluru, Silvester shared his experience with the founders of Karnataka Sports Network (KSN), a civil society organisation, which works with underprivileged youth and children. Silvester is also a member of the organisation. The six founding members of KSN, all former national and international sportsmen, decided to pitch in. Apart from Silvester, the team also includes Robin Paul, former India relay runner, Francis Selvaraj, former Bangalore A division team footballer, Felix, a Taekwondo instructor, and Patterson Lamech, a former Indian Air Force adventure team member.

Proactive approach
Based on research, they found out that Karnataka was among the top five states in child trafficking and abuse. In order to create awareness about the ills plaguing the state, the team undertook a massive cycling expedition. After undergoing training for seven months, a team of 13 cycled across 17 districts and seven cities in the State.
The team flagged off their expedition from Cubbon Park, Bengaluru on November 21, 2016, and cycled through Mandya, Mysuru, Madikeri, Mangaluru, Shivamogga, Hubballi, Bagalkot, Vijayapura, Hosapete, Chitradurga and Tumakuru. They covered nearly 1,700 km in eight days. Silvester described the expedition a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an eye-opener for every member of the team.

The mission of the expedition was also to raise awareness about a healthy lifestyle and mobilise community outreach through physical activities and games. The team visited at least 30 schools and spoke on a wide range of social issues. They asked people to get in touch with Childline India Foundation, the civil society organisation that runs the telephone helpline, 1098. This is India’s first 24-hour, toll free  helpline for children in distress. In all, the team members said, they were able to interact with nearly 6,000 children and 4,000 adults. KSN was supported by organisations such as Breakthrough, The Freedom Project and Child Focus.

As sports is the main focus of the organisation, which was set up in 2011, the team has organised various games and activities to draw people’s attention to the menace of child trafficking.

Daniel Koti, chairman of an organisation called Equip India, who partnered with KSN during the expedition in Hubballi, appreciated the idea of riding cycles and spreading awareness. “Child abuse, if not necessarily trafficking, is on the higher side in Hubballi. The bicycles attracted a large crowd and this helped in achieving the goal of the mission,” he said. “A lot of minors are employed in hotels and as daily wagers. But people see nothing wrong because the children earn their daily bread. They need to realise that such children are deprived of their rights.”

Koti said the Department of Women and Child Development needs to be more proactive in keeping a check on this issue. “What is the point in having stringent laws, but nobody to ensure its implementation?” he asks. The initiative has struck a chord with various like-minded organisations, and as a result, an organisation in Goa will organise a similar event next month.

“Statistics show that a child is trafficked in India every eight minutes. This is shocking. We will do what we can to prevent this,” said Selvaraj, secretary of KSN. According to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2015, Karnataka ranks fifth in crimes against children. Of the 84,189 cases reported in the country, Karnataka accounted for 3,961 cases. As many as 82 cases of child trafficking were reported in the state. NCRB records showed kidnapping and abduction accounted for at least 44% (1,743 cases) of the total crime against children in the state. In reality, crimes against children occur at a much higher rate.

Bengaluru is no exception. Throwing some light on this, Daniel Deepak, a member of the team, said he agreed to be a part of the event as he was moved by the plight of a woman, Kaveramma (name changed) who used to live in a slum in his vicinity in Banaswadi, and wanted to help bring about a change. Shedding light on the case, Deepak said Kaveramma’s husband used to force her to rent out her infants. He also forced her into prostitution. “On hearing about this, I approached Kaveramma and she told me everything after I gave her Rs 500.”

Child abuse is prevalent across the world. One needs to be a little attentive and render as much help as possible to put an end to this. A small step by every citizen would ensure that all children live their lives rather than just survive.

To know more, one can email karnatakasportsnetwork@gmail.com.

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