India’s poverty problem sees children ‘caught in the crossfire’ – they are forced into child labour so that they can serve as assets to the family. Despite a 2006 amendment to the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Actthat ambitiously aims to cover lakhs of child labourers below the age of 14, poverty has still ensnared India’s children into child labour. This has made the role of non-governmental organisations and civil society even more important. Below we discuss some ways and means through which NGOs contribute to ending child labour in India.
Encouraging commercial enterprises to not use child labour
NGOs are constantly sensitising trade organisations to end this social evil, and locals have been made vigilant to report instances of child labour at businesses. Thousands of children are still toiling for 14-16 hours a day, in labour intensive professions such as farming, stone cutting sector, mining industry, and zari and embroidery works. Child labour is reportedly highest among Scheduled Tribes, Muslims, Schedule Castes and OBC children, despite aggressive reservation policies favouring this demographic. NGOs like Save the Children are strategizing meticulous projects to address this issue.
Lakhs of children in India are working in professions like beedi-rolling, brick kilns, carpet weaving, commercial sexual exploitation, construction, fireworks and matches factories, hotels, hybrid cottonseed production, leather, mines, quarries, silk, synthetic gems, etc. This also leads to child trafficking, something which gets silent approval when there is demand from retail, hospitality, and menial work sectors.
Encouraging policy reform
Save the Children is a pioneer in child labour eradication and fostering child rights ever since its founder, Eglantyne Jebb’s wrote a charter of children’s rights (and it became the blueprint of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). The NGO has fought against child labour through lobbying for reform and legislation. Save the Children has established a long-lasting dialogue with vulnerable communities across India, as well as state and national level governance to address child labour, abuse, corporal punishment, trafficking, and child rights violation.
Save the Children’s aim is to make child trafficking “socially and culturally unacceptable”. The NGO also developed long lasting relationships with rural and urban families so they can support an NGO like this, through community volunteers, who spread awareness about education. Other legislative victories include the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, which was strengthened with the NGO’s intervention.
Save the Children has run elaborate campaigns such as ‘action/2015’ and ‘Every Last Child’ with an aim to make child rights important in India’s collective psyche. In the action/2015 campaign, the message of hope was broadcast by children – over 4 lakh sent postcards, and 16 lakh acted online to push the government for a better India. The organisation interacts directly with the vulnerable communities, driving home the importance of children staying away from any form of labour.
Freeing children through grassroots missions
In 2014, the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children united for a €7 million programme to protect 8 lakh children living in cotton communities in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Earlier, the NGO has worked in 1,866 villages of Gujarat and Maharashtra where over 65,000 children were moved to classrooms from the bondages of child labour. Thousands of farmers also pledged to make their farms child-labour free. Along with a lasting dialogue with vulnerable communities, the NGO has made outreach to state and national level governance to address child trafficking, including working with Police departments of states with child trafficking incidence like Punjab, Delhi, Bihar, J&K, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam.
Preventing exploitation during disaster
After the South India floods affected millions of lives (including almost 600,000 children), Save the Children’s teams provided a massive rapid relief response, the NGO channelised relief funds to reach thousands of households with hygiene kits, household kits, education kits, and solar lamps, and raised funds for shelter, food Baskets, Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) and more. The NGO has also undertaken surveys of Child labour across different demographics, creating grounds for local policy change, as well as setting up contact and activity centres across the city to give children access to play areas and vocational training. The NGO regularly creates safe spaces and provisions education supplies to enable children to continue with their schooling after disasters, and safe from traffickers who prey on their vulnerability.
Disruption in schooling and lack of parental care creates an environment where child trafficking and subsequent enrollment into labour grows rampant, which means NGO’s intervention cannot be undermined. India’s urban poor children, deprived of education often find themselves trapped in substance abuse or victims of abuse and exploitation. Save the Children ranks among an illustrious list of NGOs which have shown demonstrable capacity to make a difference to lakhs of kids. While civil society has vowed to unite and end child labour, there is an even stronger need to make this a people’s issue. While officials and government can only institute policies, ignoring everyday child abuse and malnourishment must also be attacked at an individual level, wherever possible – so donate online and support this cause.