Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a phenomenon that plagues societies worldwide, leaving countless individuals with lived experience of childhood sexual abuse in its wake. Nearly half of the children of our country have experienced some form of sexual abuse (Study on Child Abuse: India, 2007). The National Crime Records Bureau continues to paint a grim picture, reporting a staggering 170 CSA instances daily, with seven cases reported per hour. Even more troubling is the fact that in 97 per cent of these cases, the offenders are known to the victims.
However, amidst the darkness, a beacon of hope emerged in the form of Arpan — an organisation founded by Pooja Taparia. Its mission? To create a world free of Child Sexual Abuse.
Arpan’s journey into the realm of CSA began in September 2004 when Pooja Taparia was deeply moved by a play titled ’30 Days in September,’ which shed light on the horrors of CSA. This play served as a turning point, providing Arpan with a new vision and a clear sense of direction.
Seventeen years ago, when Arpan embarked on this mission, society seemed oblivious, deaf, and mute to CSA. A profound social and cultural taboo shrouded discussions and awareness about CSA. It was hidden and under-reported, and there was limited acceptance of its prevalence and the negative consequences it inflicted.
Arpan recognised that tackling a multidimensional issue like CSA required a multifaceted approach—one that could not only respond to abuse but also prevent it. Thus, the organisation strategically decided to develop a model with a balanced emphasis on both prevention and healing. Along with that, the focus was on working at the systematic level in addressing the issue comprehensively and holistically.
Arpan’s pivotal contribution to the fight against CSA is its flagship initiative, the Personal Safety Education (PSE) programme. This comprehensive life-skills module is designed for children from grades 1 to 12, and equips them with the knowledge, skills, and attitude needed to identify safe and unsafe situations, refuse assertively, and seek support if they encounter an unsafe incident. While teaching children how to participate in their safety is critical, the onus of protection still lies on adults. Hence, Arpan works with adults, strengthening the safety net for children by educating and empowering parents, caregivers and educators.
With the underlying philosophy to ensure that the ‘Personal Safety’ content is scalable, consumable and user-friendly, Arpan develops a range of digital courses and modules for children and adults through its Digital Learning programme. www.arpanelearn.com is a free e-learning portal that hosts these courses to ensure that all the course content, traditionally delivered in offline sessions, can be delivered online, and PSE transcends physical boundaries, making it accessible to all. Arpan also undertakes strategic partnerships to increase the uptake of digital content by integrating these courses on other learning management platforms.
For Arpan, it is not only about the large numbers but the recognition that the impact of CSA can run right into adulthood, if not healed. Hence, early intervention is pivotal, and Arpan ensures that when conducting the PSE programme in schools, they not only educate children about personal safety but also facilitate intervention for those who have faced unsafe situations. Children who disclose cases of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour are provided with psycho-therapeutic support to facilitate their healing. Through psycho-therapeutic support, children who indulge in sexual misbehaviour are supported to reduce future offending. In an extraordinary step forward, Arpan piloted a unique model of restorative justice practices in a school setting. This innovative approach involves both children who inflicted harm and children who were harmed, actively resolving matters of the incident with the help of a facilitator. Restorative justice seeks to repair harm and restore relationships, and Arpan’s adaptation of this process for young children shows a commitment towards primary prevention.
Psychotherapeutic intervention is a cornerstone of Arpan’s approach, and through intensive Mental Health Services, the organisation supports children, adolescents, and adults with lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. These services encompass both mainstream and alternative therapeutic approaches, delivered through online and offline channels. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is one such modality used by therapists at Arpan. EMDR is an evidence-based trauma-focused therapeutic model that facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and brings these to an adaptive resolution. Individual therapy and group sessions aim to heal the psychological, social, sexual, and physical consequences of CSA. Arpan also provides psychotherapeutic services to young offenders in conflict with law to reduce the chances of recidivism.
To make a broader impact, bring in a sustained focus on child protection at the systemic level, and help align government policies and programmes to integrate child safety into standard educational curricula and in government initiatives on health and wellbeing, Arpan actively invests in government partnerships and training programmes. Arpan’s efforts are directed towards prioritisation of prevention and healing of CSA in the government mandate, integration of the PSE programme in the national and state curriculum, and strengthening the capacities of the mental health professionals to respond to children with lived experiences of sexual abuse. The organisation has also forged public-private partnerships, acknowledging that governments’ support is instrumental in standardising prevention and healing efforts. By training government stakeholders, NGOs, teachers, psychologists, counsellors, and para-professionals, Arpan has extended its influence far and wide, ensuring child safety in various settings.
A significant milestone in Arpan’s journey was its collaboration with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to integrate Personal Safety messages into the School Health and Wellness Programme under Ayushman Bharat. Personal Safety is now integrated into the secondary curriculum, and Arpan plays a crucial role as a member of the National Resource Group, conducting training sessions for State Resource Groups across all states. This initiative promises to empower a multitude of teachers who, in turn, will impart personal safety knowledge and skills to countless children. Personal Safety content has also been incorporated into the Peer Educator’s Reference Booklet on Adolescent Health, under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK). Another key achievement has been the inclusion of Personal Safety messages on offline and online safety as key content goals for children in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for School Education 2023 which has the potential to shape textbooks for children across grades and corresponding teacher training content pan India. At the state level, personal safety content has also been integrated into Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh state education curricula.
Through these diverse pathways, Arpan’s impact has been nothing short of remarkable. The organisation has impacted 3 million children and adults to date. Of these, 8,00,000 individuals have been impacted directly by Arpan and an additional 2.2 million were impacted through partnerships. Arpan has also provided counselling to over 14,000 children and adults.
Under the dedicated leadership of Pooja Taparia, Arpan remains committed to its mission of creating a world free of Child Sexual Abuse. Through education, prevention, early intervention, and healing, Arpan presents a wonderful example of Nexus of Good and was a deserving winner of the 2023 Annual Award.
Views expressed are personal