Sunitha Krishnan

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when Sunitha Krishnan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Sunitha has a blueprint for citizen-state collaboration in dealing with the widespread trafficking of children, a problem that is largely hidden. Although laws, activists, and organizations are already devoted to this issue, the overall approach has been too piecemeal and reactive to make much of a dent in the systemic problems that permit trafficking to thrive. Sunitha, who knows the dangers of this work as well as anyone, sees a solution in a system of joint management and mutual accountability between state authorities and the civil sector.
Sunitha recognizes the strengths and limitations of both the citzen and state sectors. The state alone has the money and authority to liberate, house, and protect children on a larger scale. But money and authority are not enough. In fact, when these resources are misused they compound misery rather than alleviate it. The citizen sector has the drive, insight, and creativity needed to help the state put its money and authority to the right use. But in the area of trafficking and child protection, civil society lacks the structure and coordination, in addition to the money and mandate that would enable it to deal with this complex problem. It is not that organizations do not take on trafficking, as there are many that do and succeed nobly. But the lack of political support limits the ultimate systemic impact.
An important object of Sunitha's reform is the existing system of "transit homes" run by the state. Transit homes are supposed to function as safe houses and rehabilitation centers, but in reality they are often dysfunctional way stations from which children emerge in worse condition than when they entered. By reorganizing so that citizen organizations can manage and monitor transit homes together within the state, Sunitha lifts the veil of secrecy that often permits abuse under the neglectful eye of the state working alone. She further extends the role of the transit home to include improved counseling and family reintegration. Joint management allows citizen organizations a voice and some oversight in the running of the homes, but it does not burden them with the challenge of fundraising and bureaucracy that would be required if they were to compete by establishing their own homes. While on the local level joint management puts new, perhaps unwelcome, scrutiny on police, transit home staff, and caseworkers, it also fosters better state regulation by placing all local efforts under a comprehensive state-level rescue and rehabilitation policy. Sunitha's strategy is to move from several successful state policies to an encompassing national mandate.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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