Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Girls & Women

12-Year-Old Girl Killed by Cyclone After Being Forced to Sleep in a Shed During Her First Period

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals call for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. However, around the world customs are often manipulated to hold girls back from receiving education or independence — for example, by segregating them during menstruation. Click here to empower rather than oppress women.

A 12-year-old girl has been killed in India after she was sent to a menstrual hut, according to The News Minute.

The primary school pupil, named Vijaya, reportedly had her first period on Nov. 13 and was sent to a thatched hut in a coconut grove with goats and cows tethered outside.

Just three days later, Cyclone Gaja hit her village near Pattukkottai in Tamil Nadu, uprooting a coconut tree that collapsed upon her hut.

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step up For Women's Rights and Health

Pattukottai Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ganesamoorthy told The News Minute that Vijaya had been asked to sleep in the thatched hut, and could only return home after her so-called coming-of-age rituals were completed. 

Despite warnings from the Indian meteorological department regarding the severity of the cyclone, Vijaya was kept in the hut to ride out the storm.

"I told them to take her to a different place," Vijaya’s grandmother told BBC Tamil. "But within hours, the cyclone had struck and we couldn't move anywhere."

She said the family lived in a coconut grove some distance away from their village of Anaikudi.

Related Stories Aug. 10, 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation Nepal Criminalizes Forcing Girls and Women Into Menstrual Huts During Their Period

"We are shattered," she added. "When we saw the tree, we lost hope. We waited for villagers to help us remove the tree and pull her out of the hut."

The grandmother said that Vijaya was rushed to the hospital but doctors declared her dead on arrival.

According to the BBC, the girl’s age was 14 — not 12 — and was named Vijayalaksmi.

Some villagers told BBC Tamil that her death was a "wake up call" as it was a common practice in their village to segregate menstruating girls. 

"This is some tradition in this side of the state," DSP Ganesamoorthy said. "When a girl comes of age, the family asks her to stay separately in a thatched hut for at least a week."

According to other reports heard by The News Minute, Vijaya was expected to stay in isolation for 16 days in the hut.

Cyclone Gaja made landfall on Nov. 16 and has killed 46 people, according to the BBC.

The cyclone destroyed more than 80,000 hectares of farmland, and 493 relief camps have been set up to provide water, food and blankets.

But Kavya Menon, head of operations at AWARE India Trust, which campaigns to end sexism in India, said Vijaya’s death "cannot be pinned on the Gaja cyclone."

"Her death is a result of societal violence against women," she said. "Girls who are left alone are more vulnerable; the whole community is responsible."

According to The Independent, 1 in 5 girls in India drop out of school after they start menstruating, and just 12% of 355 million menstruating girls and women in the country use sanitary napkins.

Read More: A Ban by a 'River God' May Keep Ghanaian Girls Out of School During Their Periods

In 2017, lawmakers in Nepal criminalized the Hindu custom of banishing women to huts during menstruation, a practice known as "chauupadi."

Speaking to The Independent, 17-year-old Nepalese girl Parbati said that she felt "really, really scared" after getting her first period when she was 12. She was separated from her family and forced to live in a hut known as a "chhaugoth."

Parbati later joined an adolescent girls group supported by international charity ActionAid, who work with impoverished women and girls, where she learned about sexual and reproductive rights.

After telling her parents about the damaging aspects of chauupadi, she was allowed to remain at home during her periods.

"My parents were happy when I started sleeping inside the house because they also feel I am unsafe in the chhaugoth because a snake might bite me or another bad thing might happen," she said.