#ActNow for Child Protection

12 06 2015

I take the local train to go to work every day. The most heart-breaking part of my trip is Mahim Junction. In this particular area, every day I see half naked kids sorting through garbage. They do hazardous work to help their families survive poverty. They work when they should be in school. They work when they should be playing. They work in the scorching sun of Mumbai, and they will probably work as much during the monsoon.

An ILO 2015 report says “there are 16.7 million (5-17 year old) children in child labour in South Asia, (…), and of these 10.3 million are in the 5-14 year age range. The young, 5-11 year-old children, make up about one-fifth of all child labourers in South Asia.”

According to the same report, at 5.8 million children, India has the highest rate of child labour in South Asia.

And this is not India’s only problem. I do not want to fill your head with statistics but I strongly believe these are important:

  • 1 out of 3 children face bullying in Indian schools. 1 in 2 children say that they have experienced emotional abuse; 65% experience corporal punishment. More than 50% of the children using the Internet were either threatened or harassed online. By the age of 15, 51% of girls have dropped out of school.
  • Child migrants are estimated at approximately 15 million. Over 3.25 lakh children went missing between 2011 and 2014, at an average of nearly 1-lakh children going missing every year. ~1.2 million children were trafficking victims, prostituted & enslaved throughout the country, including via child sex tourism.
  • Around 53% of children report having faced a form of sexual abuse. Of this number, more than half are boys.
  • India alone accounts for one third of the child brides’ global total. 22.5% of girls aged 15-to-19 face physical or sexual violence, a majority of it within their own homes.

Do you feel powerless reading this? Most of us do. I feel powerless every day in Mumbai.

At Aangan, we are trying to empower people to act when they see a child in distress. With a focus on “Making schools safer”, “Saying No to child labour” and “Being alert to child sexual abuse”, the child protection specialists at Aangan have put together a list of actions normal people can take when they see a child in distress. These are simple things, simple things that can change the story of a child.

Here are some examples from the Aangan website:

  • Making schools safer” – Check that your child’s school has a Child Protection Policy. It’s a minimum standard to ensure a safe environment and that protective systems are in place to address issues like harsh punishments, bullying, physical and sexual abuse and harassment of all kinds.
  • Saying No to child labour” – Start at home – how old are the people who work for you? Go a step further – talk to your family, your friends, your neighbours, and your housing society. Tell them to say NO to child labour too.
  • Being alert to child sexual abuse” – Pay attention to your child and his or her responses to the people around. Don’t make reporting it the child’s work. Everyone who has contact with children must be alert to and must respond to the cues children send.

Child protection is not just the government’s business, or something that NGOs do because they are NGOs. India is not the only place on earth where really bad things happen to children. So let’s open our eyes, look around and take action.

Learn more about what you can do if you see a child in distress at http://aanganindia.org/actnow

Follow Aangan on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, regular people child protection stories, and more.

I am an iCats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”. This is how the name ICats came about. Global corporations can integrate the ICats Program into their leadership development programs to promote responsible leadership through first hand experience.

This post was originally published on the iCats Blog.





World Day of Social Justice in Mumbai

23 02 2015

20th of February 2015 was the World Day of Social Justice. If you would have asked me 6 months ago about this day, I did not even know it existed. But then, 6 months ago I did not know that in February 2015 I will find myself in India again, working for a non governmental organization that addresses issues such as human trafficking, child labour and hazardous work, child marriage and abuse. 2015’s theme for the World Day of Social Justice was Ending Human Trafficking and Forced Labour. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • “Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
  • Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
  • Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.”

I have been with Aangan for one week now . It was intense! In my third day I visited one of the institutions we work with in Mumbai, close to Sandhurst Road train station. I participated in a Shakti session and met 9 girls, 14 to 17 years old, who have seen way too much for their young age. While I was aware child marriage, human trafficking, child labour and slavery exist in our world, being so close to it was a slap in my face. I knew before I applied for my fellowship that Aangan is an amazing organization but how amazing it is I am just starting to see.

You are probably asking yourself what is Shakti? Shakti means “strength” in Hindi. It means becoming empowered and strong by getting the knowledge needed to act for your safety and future. To quote the description from the Aangan website about the program: “Through Shakti, adolescent girls are connected to a peer network; are supported and empowered to recognize risk and develop strategies to resist pressures of child marriage, dangerous work, and being pulled out of school; to access services; negotiate for themselves; articulate aspirations and take steps towards achieving their life goals.” Do you see now why I love this program already?

You will find on the Aangan website testimonials such as this one, who speak volumes about the impact of the program in disadvantaged communities in India: “Asha is my friend, we go to Shakti sessions together. When she came to me crying, saying her parents were forcing her to get married, I had to do something. So I went with other Shakti girls, spoke with her family and after much convincing, her marriage was stopped.”- R, 16, Varanasi

Women face danger, sexism, abuse and harm everywhere in the world. Too few find the power to speak up and defend themselves. In some communities the fault of being sexually abused is often placed with the victim, while the abuser walks free. The family is scared they will “lose face” so they don’t talk about it. It can affect the marriage prospects of their girls and people will ask if the act was somehow provoked by the victim. Other women have issues identifying risk, even physical abuse. They don’t know it’s illegal and when a family member is the abuser, husband or father, they are inclined to believe that the situation is normal. After all, the person that they should trust the most is the one harming them.

After finalizing Shakti, girls are able to:

  • Identify risk
  • Articulate safeguards and strategies about how they might prevent dangerous situations and keep safe
  • They have educational and vocational aspirations
  • They found support to cope with situations of gender discrimination, abuse, oppression, atrocities
  • They demonstrate negotiation skills around 3 key issues: child marriage, pressure to drop out of education and hazardous work
  • They can identify positive role models for school/work
  • They have the confidence to speak up and participate in family/home decision making
  • They have at least one person to confide in
  • They can affect change for community and self

You can read in the Shakti 2013 Impact Report how the girls in Hardasapur, Patna brought change in their community in a very unexpected way. Water is one of the things I always took for granted. The girls in Hardasapur had to take 3 trips a day to get water home. This was stopping them from attending school regularly and many of them had to drop out of education. Nobody wanted to hear about their dreams and aspirations. Their contribution to their families was to bring water and do the household chores.

During the Shakti sessions they realized a hand water pump in their community would change everything. The girls wrote an application, gathered signatures and approached the Ward Commissioner with their request. Sounds easy, right? But it was not! They faced a lot of ridicule from the community members, after all, they were “just girls, what could they do?” But the Ward Commissioner was impressed. The girls made sure to follow up with his office and, soon after, the pump arrived and it was installed. The girls could now go to school and their respect within the community grew. And this was just the beginning!

Another eye opening experience last week was participating to a training on India’s POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, held by Majlis Legal Centre. They are “a group of women lawyers and social activists committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights.” But more about this in my next blog!

I am an iCats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”. This is how the name ICats came about. Global corporations can integrate the ICats Program into their leadership development programs to promote responsible leadership through first hand experience.

This post was originally published on the iCats Blog.

Small seller in the train from ‪Mumbai‬ central to ‪Bandra‬ He was no more than 7. I hope he has a family who loves him and takes care of him. Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour as estimated by ILO! Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation!

Small seller in the train from ‪Mumbai‬ central to ‪Bandra‬ He was no more than 7. I hope he has a family who loves him and takes care of him. Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour as estimated by ILO! Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation!








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