Varanasi is a city located on the banks of the Ganges River, in the Uttar Pradesh state in north-east India. Around 1.5 million people live in this city. The economy is focused on the production of silk weaving, carpets and also tourism.
However, the state in which Varanasi is located is one of the poorest states in India: 37% of people are live in poverty, and 44% suffer from food deprivation. Children are especially vulnerable to these living conditions, as they struggle to keep safe, healthy and well-nourished.
Since 1984, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families and advocating for their rights in Varanasi.
Gender inequality is a concerning issue in Uttar Pradesh, where Varanasi is located. To illustrate, in the state, 25% of girls were forced into marriage before the age of 18. This has already decreased from 68% in the past. Child marriage is a violation of the universal declaration of human rights, and the emotional damage a child suffers from a forced union is profound.
Furthermore, literacy rates in Uttar Pradesh speak for themselves: the literacy rate for men is 82%, while the literacy rate for women is 66%. Offering equal opportunities to children needs to become a priority.
Varanasi is a rapidly growing city in India, but the infrastructure has been unable to keep up with this development. Often people who move to Varanasi in search of a better life and job opportunities, end up in one of the 220 slums in the city. Most of those slums are located in the center of the city next to Ghats, the stairs leading to the Ganges where spiritual rituals are performed.
In these slums, there is a lack of affordable housing, adequate sanitation and safe drinking water. An estimated 35% of the population in the city live in slums. Children are most vulnerable to the poverty in these slums, lacking access to healthcare and education.