Community women lead the way on child protection through Aangan Trust

Imagine thousands of women coming together every day to transform our communities into what we imagine them to be, one home at a time. It’s no longer an idea: it is a living, breathing reality. Women living in multiple vulnerable nooks and corners of our country have taken it upon themselves to push our society an inch closer to the ideal. It all starts with a dream: what one wants for one’s children, how different or how similar a life one imagines for their child or younger sibling, and how much courage one has to break the shackles and move ahead while being surrounded by restraining obstacles. This one story, of so many women coming together, began with the same dream.

 

Aangan Trust is a nonprofit that works to prevent serious child harm in the forms of trafficking, early marriage, hazardous labour, and abuse across India. Its work is deeply embedded in community power: they provide a one-year training program on child safety to volunteers across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. Through the child protection curriculum training they receive, these barefoot child protection workers learn about how they can support children by helping them identify early warning signs of harm and respond in a way that will allow them to get the support they need.

 

“Since I wasn’t able to even think about achieving the dreams I had when I was a child, I am absolutely determined to make sure my daughter’s future looks very different,” says Praveena, a woman volunteer in Mumbai.

 

This year alone, Aangan has trained 6927 women volunteers, who have impacted a total of 2,65,487 children and made them safer.

 

Here are actual stories from two states where Aangan’s inspiring women volunteers have been working to better the living conditions of children and their families.

 

The dropout rate is particularly high in Jharkhand — only 30 out of 100 students finish their primary education. In the most vulnerable areas, such as Pakur, a rural district with a primarily agricultural economy, a child who is not in school is much more likely to work as a labourer or be forced to marry at an early age.

 

In a recent intervention, Aangan’s women volunteers made lists of 800 children who had dropped out of school and were at risk of being forced to work. The idea was to engage with them to persuade them to continue their education Through collective action led by community women volunteers trained by Aangan on child protection, 557 of those children have re-enrolled in Pakur schools over a five-month period.

 

In Bihar, Aangan’s women volunteers worked on prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation of children who were victims of trafficking. They, along with Child Welfare Committees became foster parents of the children who were victims of the gruesome business. Between 9 and 15 years old, they were sold off by their families and relatives due to reasons like dire poverty, and then were used like slaves by their masters. Aangan’s social workers worked on 20 cases after they were rescued from the clutches of these heartless criminals.

 

Their endeavors ensured that the families of the survivors secured employment and were given rations and basic necessities. The children have been issued proper identity proof and have been enrolled into schools. To make sure that these children actually attend school, a Talsevak has been appointed to take them to school and then get them back home safely.

 

Nobody wants to see children get hurt, and yet in India, nearly 100,000 children go missing every year, over a million children are reported to be victims of trafficking, 45% of girls marry before the age of 18, and a child is sexually assaulted every 30 minutes. Protecting a child from being harmed hardly features in the mainstream of development dialogue. This has to change. And this will change only with the collective effort of every member of the society. It may not have sunk in into most of us, but each one of us is a stakeholder in this. Aangan Trust, over the years, has recruited and trained a number of bravehearted women volunteers, created a curriculum to help them start working toward child safety in their communities, provided them with the help they needed, and continues to support them throughout their journey. Aangan has put in place the building blocks and has been continuously evolving in its ways so that the collective dream of keeping children safe starts walking towards becoming a mainstream reality. But Aangan is nothing without the myriad volunteer women who have found in themselves the strength to come together for what they believe in, and become a movement of their own.