Recognizing the district as a hub where multiple systems and public services converge, Leher has incubated a 3-5 year modular program where it will work in close partnership with local administration and NGOs at the district level, in risk ridden communities.
Research shows that one of the best ways to prevent child abuse and neglect before it starts is by building child-friendly communities. We believe that communities do have the capacity to find solutions to protect their children. Especially, in relation to chronic problems that include child labour and child marriage, they are willing to make a change if supported by suitable options.
Leher aims to develop a local community engagement program that prevents children from being abused or exploited. Over a 5 year period, Leher aims to incubate a program to equip communities with awareness, understanding of their situation, skills to mobilize themselves, demand and monitor child protection.
Building Blocks of the program
Key building blocks of the community engagement program include
- Participatory practices: The program adopts use of the participatory approach and practices to work with communities. Community participation underlies the spirit and culture of the program. The endeavor is to equip communities with skills to critically evaluate their situation, mobilize themselves, seek answers, plan, act, demand and drive the system, for the safety and protection of children.
- Baseline for child protection in the district: A district level baseline is conducted in coordination with the district administration. It comprises a primary study reflecting the stories, perceptions and perspective of communities (adults and children); a secondary study comprising analysis of district level published data on children, mapping of accountability, government and nongovernment services and programs for children; consultations at the district level—at the planning stage to gain ownership of the departments to the process, their views and insights; and finally to share findings and undertake planning for work, which is to follow. The baseline study draws the district (communities and government) into a structured discussion and planning for child protection.
- Building leadership and skills in adolescent girls and boys: The program invests in building capacities of adolescents, taking them through a year-long process of capacity building and experiential learning: understanding self and environment, democratic decision making, responsibility, problem-solving, collective action. The objective is to give them skills which would serve them in their own lives. It is also a strategy of the program to nurture the next generation of village level child protection leaders from among young people.
- Synergy between children and adults: Children and adults come together to work for change. Children have access to information, can flag issues to parents, and speak for their rights, in many ways that adults cannot. Conversations about rights travel home to parents, who overcome resistance and work in synergy with children to make communities safe for children. The endeavour is to strike the right balance where children are not burdened with the responsibility of obtaining their rights, but have their voices heard in collaborative efforts between their communities and the government.
- Organizing, capacity building and equipping communities to be ambassadors for child protection: The program shares knowledge, skills and methods with communities, which help them to think and function transparently, in a structured manner. It helps communities find and nurture a collective voice on child protection issues. The program builds leadership and ambassadors for child protection from key groups in communities, which include adolescents, youth, duty bearers, parents and civil society organizations, who would advocate for child protection in their spheres of life and work.
- Meaningful partnership with government to avail entitlements: Communities are dependent on government for most service delivery for children and families.They join hands with duty bearers, and the village, block and district level, to make service delivery and access to social protection schemes more effective. The program facilitates dialogue with duty bearers, which brings about identification and resolution of issues, and more accountability from duty bearers and service providers.
Pilot project: Madhubani district, Bihar
The Leher team comes from a background of having worked several years in developing India’s emergency helpline response for children. The sheer volume and nature of calls seeking help received by the helpline, pointed to a few things: that there clearly is a lack of protection at home and in communities, where children live, allowing for them to slip into highly vulnerable situations; there is a need to look at child protection more comprehensively; there is a need for a preventive system that surrounds a child, at home, in the family, neighbourhood and community. The system for child protection under the Juvenile Justice Act had gained some strength through collaborative efforts of government and civil society. Enactment of the ICPS brought funding for child protection structures, services, and mechanisms. The time seemed right to initiate a pilot community based District preventive child protection program. In 2014, Leher, in partnership with Sarvo Prayas Santhan, began work in the district of Madhubani, in the state of Bihar.
The program draws children, families, and duty bearers together, to share responsibility for making communities capable, self-sufficient, safe spaces in which childhood thrives. It covers 63 villages in 3 blocks (Bisfi, Pandaul, Rajnagar).
We undertook a District Need Assessment at the start of the program. Today, the program nearing the fourth year, is at the half way point. The journey, though challenging, is beginning to show signs of change and possibility. Read our report Together with children - A community's journey, that shares results and learnings of our work so far.
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Stories from the field
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