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Aangan Trust founder Suparna Gupta. In 2010, the NGO expanded from working only in shelter homes and stepped out to work with communities or in places with high incidence of child abuse. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Aangan Trust founder Suparna Gupta. In 2010, the NGO expanded from working only in shelter homes and stepped out to work with communities or in places with high incidence of child abuse. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Nipping child abuse in the bud

After rehabilitating abused kids, Aangan Trust is now working to strengthen child protection systems

Mumbai: Crimes against children are rapidly increasing in India, but there is little focus on how to prevent them or help the children recover from trauma. Mumbai-based Aangan Trust is among the few organizations trying to bridge the gap by creating awareness and strengthening child protection systems across the country.

Aangan Trust started its life at a shelter home in Mumbai in 2002, where Suparna Gupta, a former advertising professional, and four others would conduct training programmes on trauma and healing for people to work with children who have been abused, trafficked or faced sexual assault and violence.

The trust was the winner in the Communication, Advocacy and Development Activism category Social Media for Empowerment (SM4E) Awards 2016.

Previous chapter

Working for children was not something new for Gupta. Even as a student, she volunteered for various non-government organizations (NGOs) that worked with street children. After a career in advertising for around eight years, she returned to work as a volunteer with NGOs.

“One of the things I noticed while working with NGOs is that child protection was a deeply neglected issue. The only interventions we had were around education and health. I went to government shelter homes for children and met with survivors. That’s when I decided that I must work for this group of children who are invisible and voiceless," said Gupta.

Since its formation, the organization has worked with more than 600 shelter homes across the country to improve the conditions of children living there and assist staff members on how to handle the children.

“While the staff had the technical skills, what we brought to the table was how can you, within chaos, be child-centric and sensitive to the fact that these are children who have gone through multiple levels of trauma and abuse," said Gupta.

Challenges

In 2006, Aangan Trust partnered with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) and formulated a 100-point monitoring system, which was recommended to shelter and rescue homes across 16 states. The system was divided into 10 themes as per the Indian Juvenile Justice Act.

According to Gupta, using the system led to better healthcare, nutrition, sanitation and education at the shelter homes, and saw an increase in the number of doctor visits.

In 2010, the organization expanded from working only in shelter homes and stepped out to work with communities or in places with high incidence of child abuse, trafficking or child marriages.

“One of the things that was worrying us was that we were meeting these children very late in the day. They have been trafficked and they have been through a lot by the time they reach these shelter homes. We thought why don’t we go to the root and source of this problem. That’s when we started going to communities," said Gupta.

At present, Aangan Trust employs around 41 people and works in 39 communities or rural slums in six states. It also works with around 1,000 women in these places. These women have been trained to ensure child safety measures within the community. For instance, 10-12 women in each community are trained by a team from Aangan Trust on various aspects of child rights and protection and how to access government bodies and officials if the need arises. This group, in turn, runs separate safety networks for girls and boys within their communities.

“If I’m a child in an institution, what is the key information I need to know to be safe? Do I know which numbers to call in an emergency? Do I know that I have the rights to education or vocational training? We are really working on creating structures or system whereby children who were completely voiceless can have access to a voice and actually plan a future for themselves," said Deepika Khatri, strategy and advocacy coordinator, Aangan Trust.

So far, the organization has received funding from large foundations such as the Azim Premji Foundation and H.T Parekh Foundation. Its annual budget is at around 8.5 crore.

Future plans

Last year, the NGO released its first public campaign ‘Act Now’ in an effort to reach out to a wider audience. It is planning to introduce a mobile app to collect data which would be used by volunteers to take preventive actions “like how to make a place safe, or make the school route safer for our girls to walk down", said Gupta.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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