Child hierodulic servitude in India and Nepal

March 14, 2021

Hierodulic child prostitution is a generic term which the Society uses to describe religiously-sanctioned child prostitution, and, specifically, those children engaged in religious cult prostitution known variously as aradhinis, basavis, bhavanis, bhogam-vandhis, devadasis, jjgateens, jogins (or jogatis), kalavanthulas, kudikars, maharis, muralis, natis and thevardiyars in India, and as deukis in Nepal. Although there are differences between these ancient institutions of cult prostitution, essentially they all involve parents dedicating their little daughters to a Hindu deity. The reasons for dedication may differ. The deukis, for instance, were girls who were offered by their parents as a sacrifice to appease the gods, or were purchased from their parents by wealthy worshippers and offered to the gods.

Historically, these girls served as hierodules, or sacred temple slaves or temple dancers, who were engaged by the priests to provide sexual services to male supplicants or male worshippers at the temple.

However, nowadays, this original purpose has gone and, after dedication — usually at the age of 5 to 7 years of age — the child is often deflowered by the priest and then sold to the highest bidder, who keeps her as his child concubine. When she grows older and loses the bloom of youth, her buyer usually gets rid of her. The girl then has to work in a brothel which often has a shrine at the door to symbolize her original dedication to Hindu cult prostitution.

The British made efforts to suppress hierodulic child prostitution in India — the Indian Penal Code 1860 made it a criminal offence to procure women or girls for that purpose — and it was on the decline throughout the earlier part of the last century. However, there has been a recent revival of these institutions in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The material in this report is based on a Mission to South Asia by the Society’s Secretary.

The Society has embarked upon a program for the suppression of hierodulic child prostitution in India.