One in every 10 children worldwide are engaged in some form of child labour. The situation is even worse in the developing countries, where around one in four children – between the age of 5 and 17 – are believed to be involved in labour that could have a detrimental impact on their health and development.
These are official UN numbers. And while the international organisation is mindful of the steps taken to combat the ugly reality, – since 2000, there has been a steady decline of 94 million in child labour –reports indicate a resurgence of late. Especially, in the light of the latest COVID 19-induced crisis, there is a growing fear of vulnerable children being trafficked and pushed into hazardous labour.
To put this into perspective, allow us to highlight the statistics again. Already child labour accounts for close to 152 million children across the globe. Of this, 72 million are reported to be engaged in hazardous work. In a post-COVID-19 and a post economic downturn world, it is highly likely that there could be a steep rise in this curve.
“What I have observed in the past is that management from the textile industry would come into the villages and recruit girls who were above the age of 16 offering them accommodation in hostels and work in factories,” says 25-year-old Janaki, Secretary of the Erode District Women Federation.
“They would tell the families that these girls will be given a good amount of money for the work they do and that can be used for their marriage. However, once the girls got there, there are no facilities and working conditions are also poor,” she adds.
Janaki fears this might happen again in the post-pandemic world, when conditions are dire. So, to put an end to child labour and to curb the trafficking of children for backbreaking work in factories and mills, she and many other activists like her are working tirelessly, fighting for the rights of the children and ensuring that “every childhood matters”.
On World Day Against Child Labour, we take a look at some of them:
No one better exemplifies the phrase: age is just a number.
A Pakistani Pashtun activist, Malala, as she is mononymously know, began her crusade of women empowerment, particularly by means of education, at a very young age. She was following in the footsteps of her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is a teacher and a prominent advocate of education and child rights. Inspired by his work and thoughts, Malala also pursued the path of advocacy.
But in the Taliban-hit Swat Valley, fundamental rights such as the right to education do not come guaranteed, especially for young girls. Malala was all of 15 when she became a Taliban target and was eventually shot on the left side of her head by a masked gunman. The incident made it to international headlines and soon, the teenager found herself at the centre of global attention.
The brave and vocal champion of human rights that she is, Malala chose to rise to the occasion. Instead of succumbing to fear and the pressure of a million eyeballs, she used her second chance at life to ensure that “every girl could go to school”.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Long before actor-producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas was appointed as the UNICEF National Ambassador, she had become a symbol of strength and power for the women of India. With an unmissable presence and a vital body of work – the Bollywood star has been working closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for almost 10 years now – she had even earned her rightful place among the humanitarians of the world. Naturally, when it came to shouldering a function as important as Global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, she was an easy choice.
The innocence of a child is so fragile, and the responsibility to protect that is one of paramount importance. Having personally heard so many horror stories, there are too many children who have endured the worst of humanity, and this is simply unacceptable. (1/2) https://t.co/Et7QTCq8Y9
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) June 9, 2020
Priyanka was conferred the role in 2016. But her contribution to social causes, particularly child rights and adolescence goes back in time. She has even partnered up with various NGOs to build the right atmosphere and create a healthy environment for the girl child in India. Particularly, her efforts as part of the UN’s global “Girl Up” campaign remain noteworthy.
Once a victim of domestic labour herself, 17-year-old Anju Verma from Haryana’s Daulatpur village has dedicated her life to fighting for child’s rights. In the process, the teen-activist, who runs the NGO called Buland Udaan, has also bravely tackled several other social evils such as child marriage, female foeticide, and sexual harassment.
But the biggest milestone in her journey is perhaps related to the headways she has made in fuelling an attitudinal shift among the villagers. By urging more and more young girls to get a formal education – she has also been instrumental in ensuring that those who dropped out are back to the schools – Anju has truly turned the tables on the skewed gender ratio in education in a state which has a history with one of the lowest sex ratios.
“My journey hasn’t been a cakewalk,” says the young changemaker, offering a glimpse into her next course of action: eliminating the period stigma.
Under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, in India, there is legal provision that enhances punishment for those who “abet, promote or solemnise” such a marriage. In addition to this, the Supreme Court of India also criminalises sex with a child bride. And yet, the reality is far uglier than what one would expect.
According to UNICEF, India is plagued by this social evil with the largest number of child brides in the world. Every year, it is estimated that around 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 are forced to get married in the country, accounting for a third of the global total.
Child rights activist Kirti Bharti has been on a mission to put an end to this menace and empower young women to challenge these age-old traditions. Of course, the journey has been fraught with challenges – Kirti has faced numerous death threats – she remains undeterred in her purpose.
Children's vulnerability is growing due to lockdown. Many are forced into labour. Their voices are to be heard. Hon' ble PM Modiji, please announce GOI ' s commitment and action to end child labour on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour on 12 th June.#childlabour
— Shantha Sinha (@ShanthaSinha1) June 8, 2020
Magsaysay award winner Shantha Sinha is a well-known child rights activist. In fact, she has even chaired the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights for two consecutive terms. In this duration, Shantha has been instrumental in highlighting the plight of vulnerable children. Particularly, her initiatives, which led to a drastic reduction in child labour in the villages of Ranga Reddy district in Telangana, remain unmatched.
A pioneer when it comes to solving India-specific problems, Shantha, a Padma Shri awardee, is also recognised for her project that sought to ease the transition of children into mainstream society and public education after having gone through the hell that is bonded labour.
Fighting for what’s right comes naturally to gold medalist sprinter Hima Das.
Nicknamed the Dhing Express – thanks to her outstanding performance at international sporting events – Hima rose to prominence after her terrific run at the 2018 Asian Games. And deservedly so. She had clinched the gold at a global meet, a feat that India has struggled with for some time now. But garnering accolades and placing India on the global sporting map was not all that the Assam-born athlete was doing.
Even before fame came her way, she was vocal about her state’s migrant crisis. As a teenager, she had even organised a demolition drive once, against an illegal liquor store. It was only natural that Hima took up activism seriously once she had an international platform. And that’s exactly what the golden athlete did. Today, she is India’s first Youth Ambassador, fighting for the cause of children and young people.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)