Arpan makes excellent use of the public-private partnership to scale up its essential campaign against the persistent evil of child sexual abuse in India
This was 2017. As Secretary, School Education, Government of India, I was sitting on the last bench of a classroom, along with students of class 5, in a school in Mumbai. I was extremely impressed and least embarrassed at what was being taught primarily because of the manner in which a sensitive subject of child sexual abuse was being discussed so effortlessly with the children. With me was Pooja Taparia, the founder-CEO of Arpan, an NGO that was originally set up in 2003 to improve the lives of the underprivileged.
The journey to deal with child sexual abuse (CSA) started in June 2006 after Pooja Taparia was influenced by a play '30 Days in September' on this subject. It gave her a new vision and direction for Arpan. When she embarked on this journey, she saw a world that was seemingly silent and quiet to the sexual abuse of children. There was a tremendous social and cultural taboo on the conversation around sexuality and awareness about CSA was non-existent. Sexual abuse of children was often hidden and under-reported and there was a limited acceptance of its prevalence and negative consequences. A broad variety of societal, cultural, individual and family-related normative frameworks restricted initiating the required conversations. Amidst this silence, the idea was to ignite the movement to prevent CSA as it was felt strongly that CSA needed to be prevented because of its high prevalence and negative impact. This was only possible if the tribe grew and each one played their part in child protection and took the pledge to create a world free of child sexual abuse.
To initiate the work on CSA, the need was to demystify it, create awareness that the phenomenon exists and it exists in our families and homes. The second step was to develop a scientifically researched prevention model that can address a multifaceted problem like CSA in the Indian context. Arpan developed the personal safety education (PSE) programme which is a school-based comprehensive and holistic intervention model to respond to CSA by helping children identify and seek help in an unsafe situation so that they can participate in their own safety and strengthen their safety net.
Since then, Arpan has implemented the PSE programme with 131,000 children and 102,000 parents and teachers, non-teaching staff in over 200 government, government-aided and private schools and shelter homes in 3 districts of Maharashtra. From its inception, Arpan believed that prevention investment must include greater provision for scientifically rigorous, large-scale outcome evaluation studies. External evaluation of the PSE programme by International Market Research Bureau (2014) revealed that out of the 8 per cent of children reported to have faced an unsafe situation, 90 per cent were able to seek immediate help. A case study (2017) also revealed that all who faced sexual abuse experience were able to stop the abuse and seek help. Based on an evaluation of the ideal gap period for implementation of PSE (2018), knowledge retention ranged from 92 per cent to 69 per cent.
The third step has been to put in a concentrated effort to mainstream PSE starting in early childhood and to sustain it during subsequent years. Towards this, a public-private partnership has been pivotal as, without the strategic deployment of government machinery, it would not have been possible to successfully achieve a safe childhood for all children. Arpan has trained 51,000 individuals and professionals through public-private partnership as well as partnerships with large school chains and NGOs. Of these 8,000 professionals (govt and non-govt teachers, social workers and mental health professionals) were trained to replicate prevention and intervention models of child sexual abuse. These professionals have reached out to over 1.13 million children and adults all over the country. This model of replication has been able to deliver impact — 80 per cent of children taught by the training participants remember 75 per cent of the key concepts.
Arpan worked closely with various ministries and departments, both at the Central and state levels to integrate PSE within their curriculum and training. It has been part of a life skills think-tank initiated by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and working closely with an extremely committed set of officers like Saroj Yadav at National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and at Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to ensure that the curriculum on health and wellness of school-going adolescents under the aegis of the school health programme of Ayushman Bharat incorporate messages of personal safety. This curriculum will take PSE to twenty-five crore children and fifteen lakh schools across India. Arpan has been able to integrate personal safety in Maharashtra SCERT school safety and security module as well which will also be transacted to all school-going children in Maharashtra.
Initiatives have been taken to integrate PSE in a number of states like Bihar, Delhi (where an energetic young officer, Ira Singhal and Advisor in the Education Department of the State, Shailendra Sharma provided all support and guidance) and Maharashtra (where the Education Commissioner, Vishal Solanki took the lead). Training of master teacher trainers across these states has already started. On implementation, the programme will reach 30 million children through 700,000 teachers. Arpan has initiated a partnership with WCD to launch a nationwide safe neighbourhood campaign in five states.
Work also commenced with Chandrapur District Administration, Kolhapur Zilla Parishad (under the able guidance of a committed IAS officer, Aman Mittal, CEO), Kolhapur Municipal Corporation, Thane Municipal Corporation and slowly moving towards creating these as sexual abuse free districts of Maharashtra.
Realising the potential of an interactive e-learning platform as an easy and efficient learning tool to transcend geographical boundaries and scale PSE programme, a responsive website — www.arpanelearn.com — was launched in 2019. 56,000 children and 570 adults have taken the digital courses of PSE. This digital journey that Arpan initiated is proving to be useful during COVID time.
Arpan plans to build collaboration with 10-15 states and integrate personal safety in the curriculum over the next five years. Simultaneously, digital technologies will be leveraged to scale reach and teach personal safety to every child in the country. This will have a cascading effect to reach millions of children and adults and help the country take a step towards a world free of child sexual abuse.
Arpan, under the inspired leadership of Pooja Taparia, with an amazing team comprising committed persons like Aditi Ray, presents a true example of Nexus of Good where a successful attempt has been made to demonstrate that 'good' can not only be done but can be scaled through a public-private partnership.
Views expressed are personal