For Malala, this West Bengal teenager is a true hero

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Sandeshkhali (North 24 Parganas):  As the world celebrates Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala herself is celebrating the courage of a little known young girl from West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali area who has been quietly working against the trafficking of young girls from the region.

Anoyara Khatun, 18, from North 24 Parganas, has, with the support of other children and non-governmental organisations, built a strong network to resist trafficking of young girls and prevent child marriages in the region.

“Malala and the Malala Fund celebrate Anoyara’s exemplary courage and leadership. She has helped reunite more than 180 trafficked children with their families, prevented 35 child marriages, rescued 85 children from the clutches of child labour and registered 200 out-of-schools (drop-outs) into schools,” says a Facebook post by the Malalafund, an initiative by Malala.

The post made on October 13, International Day of the Girl, only a few days after Ms. Malala was awarded the Nobel Prize, has described Anoyara as “a true girl hero.”

When The Hindu met Anoyara at Sandeshkhali on Wednesday, she was aware of the Facebook post and could not stop talking about Malala. The first year student of a local college has also collected a number of vernacular newspapers that published news of Ms. Malala’s award and shared it with her friends.

“Though I have not met Malala, I did meet her father Ziauddin Yousafzai at Brussels in June 2012,” she said. She made the trip to Belgium when she was nominated for The International Children’s Peace Prize.

“Trafficking of young girls and child marriages were rampant in the villages here. Poverty and lack of awareness and education provided the ideal conditions for traffickers to operate here,” Ms. Anoyara said.

In 2008, Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation working for child rights, helped establish a number of multi activity centres in the Sandeshkhali area. These centres help create awareness among the children of the region about the dangers of trafficking and similar crimes. Anoyara recalls stories of how she and others chased away traffickers who came offering jobs and marriage to young girls in the region.

Jatin Mondar, the State Programme Manager of Save the Children, West Bengal said that through these centres, the organisation had managed to put in place a “committee-based child protection model” in Sandeshkhali since 2004.

“Now, if someone approaches the villagers with the proposal to take a girl to Delhi or anywhere else for work, that person is sure to be handed over to the police by us,” Anoyara said.

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