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Meet the EQUALS in Tech Awards finalists: Kanyashree Prakalpa

This article originally appeared in ITUNews.

Kanyashree Prakalpa has been named as a finalist for the Equals in Tech Awards, which take place in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday, 19 December, 2017.

ITU News recently caught up with Kanyashree Prakalpa to learn more about what the government-backed digital cash transfer programme is all about. Read the Q&A below:

  1. Can you tell us why your Department has been nominated for the EQUALS in Tech Awards?

“Kanyashree Prakalpa” is a unique end-to-end, ICT-driven conditional cash transfer programme which aims to improve the lives of millions of adolescent girls from poor socio-economic backgrounds through educational, social, financial, and digital empowerment.

Through this programme, the government of West Bengal encourages girls who are vulnerable to child marriage to continue in education and avoid getting married.

Kanyashree is an online platform for adolescent girls. The girls are encouraged to use Kanyashree Online Portal, Kanyashree Apps & various SMS Services in their eCorner. The scheme was initiated in Oct 2013, and through conditional cash transfers, it has enrolled almost 4.3 million girls aged 13 – 19 years. Each of these girls has a bank account in her name, and over 9.5 million cash transfers have been disbursed since the scheme’s inception. For many girls, the money is spent on finishing higher education, or on starting a business, or as a fixed deposit. What is important is that these cash transfers give the girls choice and influence.

‘Kanya’ means daughter & ‘shree’ means ‘prosperity’. Each girl has taken the Kanyashree pledge—to continue education for as long as possible and not marry until age 18. Being a “Kanyashree Girl” has become a matter of identity, pride, and entitlement.

We feel that these are the reasons that the “Kanyashree Online” has been nominated as one of the finalists!

2. What are some of the challenges you have been trying to address?

With the enactment of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006 in India, 18 became the legal age of marriage for girls, and 21 for boys. Despite the law, West Bengal still had a high prevalence of child marriage in 2007-08, with almost every second girl a child bride. Although more pervasive in rural areas, child marriage affects far more girls than boys, even in non-slum areas.

Child marriage is perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse of minor girls. It has a negative impact on the girls’ educational attainment, and on their health and the health of their children; it leaves them financially and socially disempowered, and vulnerable to child labour, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

After 2006, it quickly became evident that legal prohibition and social messaging are ineffective in addressing child marriage. Eradicating child marriage requires tangible drivers of social change—to transform victims made vulnerable by their age and gender into actors who have agency over their own lives.

Against this backdrop, the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, and the Government of West Bengal conceived “Kanyashree Prakalpa”, which aims to empower adolescent girls to be the architects of their lives through digital and financial inclusion.

3. How are you bringing innovative approaches to these problems?

Kanyashree Prakalpa’s innovation lies in the following approaches in scheme design and implementation:

  1. Unique Scheme Design: the scheme is a model conditional cash transfer designed to target beneficiaries appropriately and transfer benefits directly.

  2. Unique Communication Strategy: the scheme also works to enhance the social power and self-esteem of girls through a targeted behaviour change communication strategy.

  3. Unique eGovernance initiative: Kanyashree Online 5.0 is the e-governance mechanism of the programme which provides end-to-end ICT enablement in a single window. The entire process is online, from enrollment to direct bank transfers. The services are available through multiple devices like the online portal, a mobile app, and SMS services. Integration with the core banking system of 90 major banks ensures the sanctioning of cash transfers to the right bank account.

  4. Exclusive Digital Platform for Kanyashree Girls: All beneficiaries have exclusive virtual space in “Kanyashree Online 5.0” to share their experiences, and view the status of their applications.

  5. Dedicated e-learning portal: Through a dedicated e-learning portal, Kanyashree girls are encouraged to study online and take online examinations as a part of the Digital Empowerment drive. They can use the IT facilities of their own schools to use these services.

4. Can you explain why access for women in tech is so important?

Exposure and access to technology to young girls boosts their confidence from a very early age. It increases their chance to continue education, and helps them pursue a bright career in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Girls’ education is a strategic development priority, as it can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty. According to a recent report published by The World Bank, ending child marriage would increase women’s expected earnings, potentially generating more than $500 billion in benefits annually each year.

5. How does it feel to gain international recognition from ITU and UN Women for your work?

“Kanyashree” has received a good deal of national as well as international recognition so far. It is even the ‘first place winner’ in The United Nations Public Service Awards. This international recognition motivates the implementers to strengthen the movement further. The Kanyashree Girls are the real winners and the brand ambassadors of change in West Bengal, India!

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