I am a child worker. Hear me
Child workers in India have been suffering under the pandemic. Let them tell you what could help them cope
As part of our special feature on A Better Approach to Child Work, we asked the Concerned for Working Children, an NGO in India, for help putting together a small collection of first-person testimonies from children working in India today. We wanted readers to hear their stories in their own words (albeit translated into English). These testimonies were originally gathered at an April 2021 event titled ‘Children: Ambassadors of Change’.* Speaking from New Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka, working children highlighted how Covid-19 has aggravated their situations. And, if matters are not resolved with the urgency they deserve, how they will suffer gravely as a result.
I am Rohith Sakthi, a Vidiyal Child Rights Movement member in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Covid-19 and lockdown forced us into desperation and poverty. Before the pandemic, I was doing a part-time job, but I took up a full-time job to support the family's income. When I see a child under 14 working in hazardous occupations, I report it to ChildLine, which helps children by providing suitable rehabilitative solutions. If a child must work to support their family, we ensure that the child is in a safe environment and gets adequate wages by involving a facilitating organisation.
I want my children’s movement to support both education and work. There should be a balance between both, so that the child can earn and support their family while continuing their education. The government must provide education for all children below the age of 18. Poverty is the root cause for many children taking up jobs, so the government should design programmes to eliminate poverty for children. This would help them to continue their education.
The government should create awareness in schools, the community, and the larger society to make them understand children’s rights. If people understand children's rights, they will be able to protect children.
Sometimes, the child is the breadwinner of the family.
I am Arti Meghwal, from Rajasthan, a student pursuing a bachelor of arts. I lost my father seven years ago. My mother is a daily wage labourer and it was very tough for her to meet the household expenses. I was 14 years when I started working. I’m part of a girls’ collective called Khushi Baal Samuh. It is not only a safe space, but also a place where we can discuss a lot of things among ourselves. There we can support other girls in any matter of need, such as menstrual health.
It is the responsibility of the government to support girls across the country. It should support them to pursue their interests and take up jobs. Girls should be able to learn vocational skills that match their interests, and the government should provide vocational programmes inside schools so they don’t need to go to separate institutions for training.
I am Kishan from Noida, New Delhi. I am 17 years old, studying in Grade 10. I am the leader of Badhte Kadam federation and a reporter for Balaknama, a newspaper for street and working children. Due to this pandemic I had to stay at home and nobody in my family has a job. Street and working children are facing many difficulties. The government should work for the street and working children, especially during this pandemic. Street children get involved in addiction and work, and the government must help them continue their education.
I am Asmita from Tarun Sena, Gujarat. During the lockdowns children face a lot of difficulties, especially young working girls. Girls from my area go to work at the diamond polishing unit. They used to meet their friends there and share their difficulties, but since they have been confined inside they have not been able to talk to anyone. I experienced a lot of pressure from my family members at home, and at one point I wanted to commit suicide. However, I was able to talk to someone from Shaishav (a child rights organisation), and they were able to help me. Schemes and policies for youth development must be implemented immediately.
I am Fathima from Nandihalli village, Huvinahadagali Taluk, Bellary District, Karnataka. I speak as a representative of the working children’s union Bhima Sangha, and on the behalf of working children all over Karnataka. Ever since Covid-19, the country-wide lockdown has caused problems in rural areas. Very few children have stayed in the villages to work in the fields. Most working children have migrated to cities to work, which exposes them to new risks.
Children do not have protection at work. Even when we do the same work as adults, our wages are lower. Sometimes, the child is the breadwinner of the family. We must provide for our whole family with the low income and wages we receive. We want to write letters to the local and the state government and create awareness through television, newspapers, and videos about the issues faced by working children. Children who go to school and receive formal education are prioritised while working children are ignored. We want to identify working children and get them together.
I am Mahfouz, a part of Azad Jugnu Club (for children’s rights) in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. I started working at a very young age as my parents do not get sufficient income. When there is no money at home, we feel the need to support our families. I had to work to repay my mother’s debt.
I am the only one in our Agariya community who has studied. But now I don’t know when school will start, and whether I will be able to study now or not. Our school has begun online studies and I started working to save money for a mobile. I decided to work at the petrol pump. I go scrap-picking once in a while, but the police recognise us as belonging to a de-notified tribe and beat us badly. Earning and eating is more important than the law.
Once the problem of regular payment for parents is solved, children will not be under pressure to start working from a very young age.
Younger girls who were in schools are doing household work. In some places, children are going out to beg as they bring in more empathy. My father is unwell. He works as a cobbler, but no one is getting their shoes repaired. How much can my mother manage: household work, earn for the family, and provide for the doctor’s fees? Her monthly purchase of medicines is quite expensive. She used to work as a domestic worker and she suffers from depression. The main problem is unemployment and low wages for adults. These need to be dealt with immediately and consistently. Once the problem of regular payment for parents is solved, children will not be under pressure to start working from a very young age to support the family.
I am Pritam Mondal, 14 years old, studying in 9th grade, from Murshidabad, West Bengal. In the pandemic, our condition has deteriorated. Due to less income, we have less food like fish, vegetables, etc. We could not afford necessities during the lockdown. Since the school is shut, I feel unmotivated with my studies. School has arranged online classes, but we can’t afford mobile phones or data balances. The government must provide these so we can attend the online classes.
I am Prathamesh Kale, Mumbai, Maharashtra, studying in 12th grade. My family’s condition during the Covid-19 pandemic was very bad and I’ve been working since then. The government should protect children working under 18.I needed to work to support my family. In our community of Mawani, most people are daily wage earners. They are labourers. The government should do its duty in protecting all of us.
We do a lot of activities in the community where we talk about children’s rights. We do street plays, we help each child to understand their rights. There should be equality and equal participation. There should be no exploitation, child abuse or any protection issues with children.
* The following unions and organisations of working children and adolescents participated in the event ‘Children: Ambassadors for Change’: Women’s Welfare Association, Tarun Sena, Bhima Sangha, Vidiyal Child Rights Movement, Azad Jugnu Club, Praajak’s Youth Collective, Balak Nama and Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghatan.
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