How a crèche for the children of sex workers in India is turning young lives around
Dr Lalita Edwards has three children and several grandchildren of her own, but dozens more call her ‘Nani’ – grandmother.
They are often sick and undernourished. Their language may be vulgar. At just a few years old they might have already witnessed unspeakable acts of sexual assault or been abused themselves.
They bear the shame of their mother’s profession. They are the children of the red light district in Pune, India.
India has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and the highest number of child labourers in the world. Paradoxically, it is also home to fast-growing new mission movements and churches; there are currently more than 75,000 Indian missionaries. One of them is CMS co-mission partner Dr Lalita Edwards.
Dr Edwards, who directs Santvana Children’s Home for HIV/AIDS infected/affected children, has long prayed for a chance to start a crèche for children of commercial sex workers, to take them out of their high-risk environment, if only for a few hours.
In November 2007 her prayers were answered. Lalita was able to rent premises in the heart of the red light area and she found qualified staff to help take care of the children.
“The crèche is for kids aged one to 10. It’s doing very well,” says Lalita, adding: “We have a regular attendance of between 23 and 25 children from 5 to 9.30pm every day. This is the time the children are most vulnerable and have no one to supervise them.
“The staff are excellent and it is amazing how all these people have joined hands to fulfil God’s plan for little lives.”
Instead of being forced to watch as their mothers see “clients”, the children at the crèche learn songs and nursery rhymes, finish their homework, if they have any, and are given a wholesome meal before they are sent home. Mothers are not charged for sending their children to the crèche.
Dr Edwards is no stranger to the red light district. For years, she has regularly journeyed inside – where few dare go – to offer free medical help and advice to women who have been forced or coerced into the sex trade.
Lalita believes that Bible-based values rooted in faith in Christ are key to HIV/AIDS prevention. She has played a vital role in challenging churches to address issues of sex and sexuality and AIDS awareness.
Writing from India, Lalita asks: “Please pray for the children, for their health, as that is always a concern. However, more importantly, please pray that they would draw closer to our Lord Jesus and they would live their lives for him.
“We know that each child is precious and unique and each has been made for a purpose. Our prayer is to enable them to find and fulfil that purpose and show them how special they are to God and us.”
Dr Edwards would also like to see a night crèche started for the children of female sex workers.
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