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Schoolgirls in India: The right to childhood

February 8, 2021

reading time: 8 minutes

by Eloise von der Schulenburg, LGT

Aangan Trust

How LGT supports Aangan Trust in protecting India's most vulnerable children.

Didi… I found your number on the chit you gave my mother and me – we need your help!” Munni Devi, a child protection volunteer in Lodipur, India, receives the text early in the morning from Jyoti Kumari , one of the girls from the village to whom she had handed her phone number a few days earlier. Devi immediately calls the frightened girl and instructs her on how to diffuse the situation at home, where Jyoti’s father has become abusive once again. After this incident, Devi stays in contact with Jyoti, calling her regularly and urging her to attend the local child safety meetings. She visits the family with her husband in an attempt to engage with the father. Had either of them been an external social worker, Jyoti’s father would never have opened the door. But Devi and her husband are well known in the village, compelling him to let them in and listen. 

In India, 60 million children are the victims of human trafficking, child labor, physical abuse or homelessness, and every year 100,000 children go missing. 45% of Indian girls marry before the age of 18, and, every 30 minutes, a child is sexually assaulted.  Lack of awareness and a shortage of resources mean that this situation persists largely unchanged.

Aangan Trust is an NGO with a mission to guarantee safe, supported childhoods for India’s most vulnerable children, free from exploitation, hazardous work, trafficking, child marriage and violence. To that end, they have set up prevention, post-harm and advocacy programs for child protection. Recognizing that the only way to end the cycle of harm is to engage all the stakeholders in a child’s life, the organization involves families, local community volunteers, schools, shelter homes, local police and government authorities.

Women's rights in India: Power to the community

Most important to Aangan’s success has been the engagement of community volunteers, mostly women such as Devi, as they are the glue that connects the different actors in a child’s life. Because these women are a part of the community, they understand the particular vulnerabilities of its children. Chaitali Sheth, Aangan’s Director and operational powerhouse, explains that in order “for this model to work and be sustainable, power needs to be given back to the community. This is not about an NGO coming in and implementing its systems from the top down. The community needs to recognize what is happening to its children and work from within. We’ve had a lot more success bringing about change when local women have gone in and done the negotiations instead of external social workers, who do not understand the nuances of local problems.” 

Sheth emphasizes that the child protection volunteers frequently know how to address many of the cases, but need training and tools to articulate and implement their knowledge. With the support of Aangan, these women have harnessed their social capital to create informal systems of community support for children, for instance by strengthening ties between children and local police officers, activating government authorities, funneling drop-outs back into school, discouraging child labor or teaching parents that children must never bear the brunt of their parents’ anger and frustration. 

Aangan Trust
"The community needs to recognize what is happening to its children and work from within." Image: © Aangan Trust

Aangan’s impressive expansion has been driven by the huge, previously unmet needs of children and their communities. Since its creation in 2001, the organization has grown rapidly and multiplied across the country, effecting profound change in the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children, 350,000 from 2019 to 2020 alone. 

As part of its effort to better protect children, Aangan mobilized 4’633 government officials in 2019, compared with only 272 in 2014. Last year the organization worked with 8,846 child protection volunteers; five years ago, there were only 309. Aangan is now active in six different states across India in hundreds of hotspots, areas in which child harm is particularly high. 

The organization’s growth can be partly attributed to the digitization of its tools, which has not only helped Aangan spread its model across the country, but has made its strategy more efficient and accessible, as in the exchange between Munni Devi and Jyoti Kumari. Aangan devised an in-house data collection mobile application, which aggregates and analyzes real-time, meticulously localized data, providing women across the country with effective, location-specific strategies to address child harm. 

For example, child protection volunteers conduct a door-to-door mobile app survey with 300 households in their village every year, in which they collect data on ownership of ID cards, bank accounts, immunization rates, out of school children and child laborers.  Aangan then analyzes and anonymizes the data and shares it on the application. This is how the volunteers are able to assess the specific needs of the households in the village, provide example strategies to workers in other communities and share the data with local government. For example, when they realized how many people were missing their Aadhaar ID cards, child protection volunteers in Konia, a region in the state of Uttar Pradesh, were able to enroll 1235 adults and children in Aadhaar, India’s national biometric ID system and alert the government about the lack of identity registration.  

The introduction of digitized data analytics tools and basic smartphones greatly facilitated coordination between the child protection volunteers and government authorities. Stressing the importance of this interaction, Sheth explains, “When formal government systems work in close cooperation with informal systems such as parents and community actors – that’s when the magic really happens. That’s when we have a true impact and prevent harm.”

Sheth points out that legitimization in the eyes of the Indian government was another driver of the push for digitization. “We needed to demonstrate to the government that our model didn’t just work in a few locations, a few villages, a few communities. We had to prove that our model could be scaled and spread nationwide.” Aangan plans to extend its reach to the rest of the country through its digitized tools, and ultimately, the goal is to be a global leader in the prevention of child harm.

Modern philanthropy: More than money

LGT Venture Philanthropy (LGT VP) became involved with Aangan Trust very early on. Tom Kagerer, Investment Director at LGT VP, explains the decision to invest: “Aangan’s vision fits right into our overarching mission to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged people. They had a strong team from the start and workable solutions to an imminent problem. And, most importantly, their solutions were scalable.” LGT VP’s involvement helped drive Aangan’s impressive growth. Since 2009, LGT VP’s grants have been used for organizational capacity building in areas such as HR, financial management and program management. The organization has scaled organically and expanded through like-minded partners, who have adopted Aangan’s methods, which helped drive programmatic expansion and accelerate the protection of children across India.

Aangan Trust
Child protection volunteers conduct a door-to-door mobile app survey with 300 households in their village every year, in which they collect data. Image: © Aangan Trust

Additionally, LGT VP has supplied human capital through access to its local networks, through ongoing mentoring and in the form of LGT Impact Fellows, who use their professional expertise to help the organization grow and improve. A Management Consultant Fellow for Aangan in 2019, for example, helped develop a child protection awareness platform, authored a leadership curriculum for community leaders and facilitated gender sensitization workshops for partner organizations and adolescent volunteers. 

Sheth attributes part of their success to LGT VP. “They have provided support, whether that’s people, additional resources, technology or a bold idea. It is so important to have funders that really believe in the cause and the people. Unlike other funders, LGT VP believes in institution building. It is not about one specific project, but about realizing Aangan’s vision.” 

Emergency funding in times of Covid-19

Now more than ever, as Covid-19 destroys people’s livelihoods, Aangan is doubling down on its efforts to build resilient families that can keep children safe. With school closures and parents in economic distress, children are even more vulnerable to domestic violence, isolation and child labor. Equipping women and children with mobile technology has emerged as one of the most effective ways to reduce isolation and domestic violence. 

To that effect, LGT VP stepped in and supported Aangan with emergency funding for leveraging mobile technology for the women’s and children’s safety. Aangan used LGT VP’s funds to procure mobile phones, advance their digital content and curriculum development and increase data collection. Sheth describes how Aangan is witnessing the real power and impact of the women volunteers in their communities. “When the government systems broke down, they came through by engaging other community stakeholders to fill the void. These women are using their training, together with the new phones and tablets, to keep the networks alive, but it is decidedly they themselves who are the greatest community assets in this effort.” 

With the support of LGT VP, Aangan is helping to build safer environments for India’s most vulnerable children and thereby granting them the freedom to choose a path unencumbered by violence and exploitation. That freedom is the fundamental right of every child on earth.

Philanthropic commitment

LGT Venture Philanthropy (LGT VP) is an independent charitable foundation striving to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged people, contribute to healthy ecosystems, and build resilient, inclusive, and prosperous communities. LGT VP deploys philanthropic capital to organizations with effective, innovative, and scalable solutions to social and environmental challenges, thus directly contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. The foundation primarily supports organizations based in emerging markets, focusing on high-impact sectors, including education, health, and environment. LGT VP is the venture philanthropy arm of LGT Group. They are also happy to forward donations to the respective organizations.

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