A child who benefits from UNICEF's Project LION, an initiative to improve standards at alternative care facilities for children without parents.

UNICEF LION Fund: Protecting India's Most Vulnerable Children

Project LION has been improving the quality of care for children living in institutions across India and advancing alternative care practices since 2018. With support from the UNICEF USA LION Fund, the initiative is looking to increase its impact across all pillars of UNICEF's child protection work.

Across India, a “silent pandemic” of abuse, exploitation, and harmful practices impacts tens of millions of children. Every day, UNICEF works to protect children against these threats and to bolster the positive influences in their lives.

One anchor of this work is Project LION, an initiative that launched in 2018 to improve standards of care in institutions and encourages alternative care for children without parental care. (To learn more, read this 2017 Q&A with LION founder UNICEF USA New York board member Purvi Padia.)

UNICEF USA's LION Fund seeks to help continue this important work, and to build on the project's progress to date, by providing direct support for UNICEF’s child protection work in five key areas:

  • promoting alternative care
  • supporting mental health
  • eradicating child labor
  • preventing child marriage
  • ending violence against children

Across these five pillars, UNICEF responds to acute child protection needs by partnering with and strengthening government and social service organizations; preventing child vulnerability to violence, exploitation or trauma by influencing social behavior change and empowering children and adolescents to live healthy, engaged lives; strengthening the enabling environment to best protect children by equipping caregivers with positive parenting skills; and solidifying legal and policy mechanisms to combat harmful practices.

Alternative care for children without parental care — an important, effective intervention

In its initial design, Project LION exclusively focused on improving the quality of care for children in institutions across India and advancing alternative care practices. From 2018 to 2021, the program reached over 500,000 children, including over 100,000 children living in institutions that now have improved standards of care.

In its new second phase, Project LION seeks to build on that success with continued advocacy with governments to create guidance and policies around alternative care practices including kinship and foster care.

The program also seeks to strengthen families to prevent separating children and caregivers; investments in child and caregiver mental health contribute to this significantly.

With continued support, UNICEF India will invest in capacity building for social workers and other interlocuters working with children without parental care to provide sensitive and appropriate care. 

Project LION has served as the backbone of child protection efforts in India, establishing a strong foundation for the LION Fund to build on.

Here's a closer look at UNICEF's ongoing efforts across other pillar child protection programs:

Supporting mental health

Even before the pandemic, there were 50 million children in India with a mental health disorder, with 31 children were committing suicide every day. Despite widespread mental health challenges, stigma remains prevalent. UNICEF India works with partners to provide direct care for children, improve early detection and referral services, strengthen community support systems and to combat mental health stigma.

UNICEF also focuses on promoting mental health by investing in positive parenting skills and encouraging young people to speak as ambassadors to promote mental health awareness.

Eradicating child labor

Millions of children in India are forced to go to work, often in dangerous conditions. UNICEF works with government partners to establish the necessary policy framework to end child labor in the country. UNICEF also works with businesses to assess supply chains and find sustainable options that help avoid practices that lead to child labor, and supports communities in changing local attitudes about child labor — while supporting families who often turn to child labor out of desperation, with alternative income and better access to preschools, quality education and protection services. 

Preventing child marriage

India accounts for more than 1 in 4 of the world’s child brides, with nearly 27 percent of Indian girls getting married before the age of 18. Early marriage negatively impacts a child’s healthy development, limits their educational opportunities and puts them at increased risk of violence and exploitation.

UNICEF’s approach to ending child marriage in India recognizes the complex socio-cultural and structural factors underpinning the practice, and addresses negative social norms that maintain its prevalence. UNICEF partners with governments, civil society organizations and young people themselves to shape policies that seek to end child marriage and adopt methods that have proven to be effective at scale.

UNICEF also engages youth voices in this work, positioning adolescent boys and girls as leaders to change norms and protect young people from a marriage that can derail their futures.

Ending violence against children

UNICEF works with communities and families in India to end violence against children by focusing on prevention. Programs aim to educate and enable families to better recognize and report violence and to foster community discussions on alternative practices such as positive discipline. UNICEF also partners with government and civil society actors to develop effective child protection laws, policies and services and to strengthen the country's child protection workforce.

UNICEF leverages its longstanding position as a trusted partner of government and civil society to work with and for children. Your support can offer children in need an opportunity to fulfill their potential. Donate to the LION Fund today.