Defending the rights of children in dangerous circumstances in Ukraine and India

Our 2023 Courage Award winners work to improve the wellbeing of children who are living in extremely vulnerable contexts.

In situations of war and exploitation, children are one of the most vulnerable groups. The two winners of Global Fund for Children’s Juliette Gimon Courage Awards this year are committed to keeping children safe, despite the risks involved.

Luhansk Regional Organization – Association of Women, Youth and Families with Disabilities of the Eastern Donbas (AMI-East) and Suprava Panchashila Mahila Uddyog Samity (SPMUS) work in different contexts but are both advocating for children who are in dangerous situations.

“Courage is responsibility,” said Tatiana Barantsova, Director of AMI-East, which is based in Ukraine and provides comprehensive assistance to children and youth with disabilities. Taking responsibility for these children who have been forgotten by society has been an act of courage, especially in recent years.

Tatiana Barantsova, Director of AMI-East. © AMI-East

AMI-East was founded in 2002 in response to Tatiana’s own experience of using a wheelchair and facing architectural inaccessibility in schools and society. Tatiana collaborated with a group of young people with disabilities, and together they founded the first organization to work with young people with disabilities in Ukraine.

Over the years, AMI-East has created an inclusive hybrid school, contributed to legislation, and developed training programs for children and teachers to foster inclusive attitudes and approaches. The organization has also organized campaigns and seminars to help schools and universities become accessible for children and youth with disabilities.

Courage became a crucial element of the organization’s work in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. AMI-East organized the evacuation of women and children with disabilities, provided assessments of temporary accommodations for evacuees, and made recommendations to shelters and centers to be more inclusive.

“These are people who cannot help themselves,” said Tatiana. “Families with disabilities, mothers with children with disabilities, and young people. This is our main task now – to place them, find solutions for temporary residence, restore their lives, start the rehabilitation process, restart schooling.”

Young people participating in an AMI-EAST program.

Young people participating in an AMI-EAST program. © AMI-East

At the beginning of the war, the organization arranged a very challenging evacuation for 19 women and children, experiencing long travel times and shelling. The AMI-East staff have been under immense stress due to the conflict yet have found inspirational strength to continue their work advocating for children and youth with disabilities.

SPMUS is another organization holding the belief that every child should have a childhood where their rights to safety and security are upheld. Working in India’s impoverished Murshidabad District, SPMUS advocates for the rights of women and girls to be free from oppression and exploitation.

Murshidabad’s shared border with Bangladesh means that girls and women in the district are vulnerable to human trafficking and child marriage. SPMUS has rescued several minors from the red-light area, and the organization’s most significant recent accomplishment is running a child protection center in the largest red-light area of West Bengal.

Children making a circle with their hands and fists

Children participating in an activity carried out by SPMUS. © SPMUS

At this center, SPMUS brings together the children of the red-light area and children from the larger community and conducts regular structured sessions on child rights, gender issues, and child protection. SPMUS staff also work to ensure that the children they encounter through their work are able to access free education, as is their right by law.

“Our goal is to promote a safe childhood for all children through education, protection, empowerment, and justice,” said Soma Bhowmick, SPMUS Executive Director.”

For SPMUS, courage means persevering and overcoming obstacles in its work to create a society free from oppression against women and children. In a context of long-standing harmful attitudes toward women and girls, the organization has encountered community resistance and come under fire from angry mobs. In spite of this opposition, SPMUS has not backed down from its mission and continues to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of women and girls.

Learn more about our 2023 Courage Award winners AMI-East and SPMUS by watching this video.

Header Photo: Young people participating in an AMI-EAST program. ©AMI-East.