By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.
“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.
“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.
“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”
Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.
For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.
“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”
Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”
Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.
“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”
Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.
The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.
“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.
“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.
“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.
“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”