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Reflecting on 5 years of defending children's right to education and protection - ChildHope

CINI ASHA (Urban unit of Child in Need Institute) and ChildHope are concluding a five-year project named "Children's Right to Education and Protection" in Kolkata (West Bengal, India), closely associated with the Education and Social Welfare Department of West Bengal.

The project has played a key role in keeping up the momentum of CINI ASHA's (CA) previous efforts to work closely with the Government structures, ultimately reaching a total of 3,971 children (G:1871, B: 2100) living on the streets, slums and squatter colonies.

The project has achieved an important objective to improve access to education for marginalised children; through the establishment of community based preparatory centres where children were prepared and supported to be ultimately mainstreamed into local formal education within a year. The project has also contributed to the reduction of school admission charges and brought about tangible change in the overall lives of working children. It has also been successful in shifting the attitudes of teachers and parents, most notably through an increase in parents contributing to their children's education by volunteering to help out at after-school coaching facilities, and school teachers have begun conducting home visits for children who have been absent at school.

In particular, a general awareness has been created and the schools have adopted a "rights-based" perspective in addressing the needs and requirements of the children. Thanks to a better environment in schools and homes, there has been an empowerment of children's parents as they are now more responsible and in a better position than before with regards to their demand for their child's safety and many of them have given up forcing children only to work or force girls into early marriage.

Another important objective of the project focussed on increasing the protection of marginalised children from abuse; In order to do this we ran preparatory and coaching centres in police stations and orientation programmes for police personnel (952 police personnel; F:179, M:773) on child rights. As a result, there has been a change in the attitude and behaviour of police as children report that they have a better understanding and are more sensitive towards children issues.

The project worked in particular with existing government structures such as Child Welfare Committees (CWC), Juvenile Justice Boards and CHILDLINE (Helpline for children in distress) and was able to strengthen the services they offered so that 229 children picked up by the police have been successfully reunified with their families.

Finally, through this project ChildHope was able to support CINI ASHA in understanding the importance of developing their own organisational child protection policies and implementing it to improve the protection of children in their care. This support was later extended by CA to 10 other local NGOs in Kolkata working with street and working children. Further, issues of gender equity have been mainstreamed in the community and with school teachers through gender training. Most notably CINI ASHA with ChildHope's support has successfully institutionalised a structured recruitment process which adheres to the principles of "Equal Opportunities for All". ChildHope will continue to learn from and support CINI ASHA in their endeavour to make their communities 'child and women friendly'.

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