The government of India enacted the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act in 1986, stipulating that children under the age of fourteen must not be employed in occupations or positions considered ‘hazardous’.
Over the years, the government has made many attempts to curb and eliminate child labor. However, social and economic pressures, extreme poverty, and a lack of awareness amongst the population have ensured that the problem of child labor persists unabated in many parts of the country.
According to data released in 2011 by the Switzerland based International Labor Organization, over 10 million children aged 5 to 14 were employed in various parts of India. According to UNICEF, 5.6 million boys and 4.6 million girls were employed illegally and constituted over 13 percent of the country’s total workforce.
Most of these 10 million children worked in factories making locks and match-boxes or in tea and cotton fields as agricultural laborers. Some of them were also employed in highly hazardous environments such as mines and quarries.
The Main Reasons for Child Labor in India
Two of the primary reasons for the persistent prevalence of child labor in India are poverty and parental illiteracy. Poor parents often feel like they have no choice but to send their children to work as soon as possible in order to make ends meet. Illiteracy can further exacerbate this problem, as it leads to a lack of awareness about better opportunities and the value of education.
Cultural preconceptions, adult unemployment, and a lack of access to quality education and vocational training are some of the other reasons why children from underprivileged backgrounds are forced to begin working at a young age. Often, children have to work in order to support aging or sick family members, or even younger siblings back home.
Giving Underprivileged Kids Their Childhood Back
The government’s efforts to eliminate child labor clearly leave much to be desired. But private citizens too are working tirelessly to rid India of the problem of child labor.
In this article, we will introduce you to five amazing women who have, for years, done everything in their power to give underprivileged kids their childhood back by freeing them from the labor force.
A social activist and educator, Farida Lambey co-founded ‘Pratham’ in 1995. Known as an ‘innovative learning organization’, Pratham aims to improve the quality of education in the country by working alongside the government and local communities. The organization was established initially to help children living in the slums of Mumbai.
Since then, however, it has scaled enormously and now works throughout India to supplement the efforts of the state and central governments with innovative and outcome-driven educational strategies. Pratham touches the lives of over 80 lakh children across 23 Indian states. Its ‘Second Chance’ program was launched to help women who had dropped out of school due to social or family obligations, restart their education.
Mistri founded the Akanksha Foundation in 1991 in order to help poor children acquire the education and skills that they need for professional success. Initially, the organization only conducted after-school learning sessions with underprivileged kids. It has now established more than 20 schools across Pune and Mumbai with over 8000 students and 500 educators.
Shaheen also founded the Teach for India (TFI) Fellowship in 2008 to remedy the issue of educational inequity in the country. The fellowship requires people to commit two years of their life to educating underprivileged children so as to promote large scale economic and social change. It has more than 1000 fellows working to educate poor children around the country.
Billimoria established Childline, India as an experimental project in the year 1996. While working as a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), she was moved to start Childline after speaking to children living in night shelters and at railways stations in Mumbai. Childline works to protect minors from various types of physical, mental, and sexual abuse and operates a 24/7 telephone helpline managed by teams of well-trained youth working in their call centers.
Childline works largely with the children of sex workers as well as with kids displaced by disaster or conflict. Over the years, Billimoria’s organization has conducted various rescue missions around India, after receiving calls from children in distress. Childline also helps with the rehabilitation and care of the rescued children.
A writer and editor, Geeta Dharmarajan founded Katha in 1989 to help educate underprivileged children in Delhi. Children’s literature and teachers’ training are some of the primary areas of focus for Dharmarajan’s nonprofit organization. Katha also uses a technique called Story Pedagogy (based on the performance arts and verbal storytelling) to enhance learning and focus in children.
The Katha Relevant Education for All-Round Development (KREAD) works with children living in the slums of Govindpuri in Delhi. Most of these children work full time or part time to support their families. So far, Katha has worked with more than 35 lakh children living in a thousand slums across various Indian states. Many of its former students now work for multinationals or run their own businesses.
Chari founded Toybank in 2004 in order to promote every child’s ‘Right to Play’. The organization provides toys to the children of underprivileged communities and families by collecting old playthings from private schools and corporates. Toybank’s network of volunteers collects toys from around the country to distribute to the poor children who cannot afford to buy them.
Toybank operates more than 250 ‘Play Centers’ in various cities such as Bengaluru, Pune, and Delhi. By partnering with various schools and NGOs, Toybank reached 43,000 children in 2018 with toys and recreational programs. Toybank also aims to sensitize teachers about the importance of recreation in children’s lives through workshops.
Individuals alone cannot bring about large-scale social change. To do so, entire communities must come together with a common aim. It’s high time the people of India joined hands with these trail-blazing women to rid our country of the practice of child labor, that harms so many of our young citizens every single day.