By Anwesha Dhar:
Located in the western interiors of the state of Uttar Pradesh, there is a quaint little town called Firozabad, which also goes by the name of ‘Suhag Nagri’. True to this sobriquet which is emblematic of the rich colours associated with marriage, Firozabad is a hub of the bangle making industry. Clinking bangles of red-green-yellow-blue is a common sight in Sardar Bazaar of Firozabad. However, look closer and you’d be petrified by the visible horror, and deafened by the hushed crying of many dwellers of this place. Sardar Bazaar is not just known for the beautiful glass bangles it puts up for sale everyday-it is also infamously known as a market place where slave trade still exists, this time in the form of child labourers.
Take the case of 18-year-old Vipun. A young, energetic boy, he dreamt of being a doctor and somehow salvaging himself and his family from this hellish existence. Extreme poverty and lack of support, emotional and financial, forced Vipun to sit near the stove in sweltering heat, making bangles out of delicate glass. He was then taken as a ‘sponsored child’ by Child Fund, which helped in improving his situation greatly. Vipun, however, is one in a million. Child labour is a reality which like a cancerous disease is spreading its tentacles across the town of Firozabad, and the country at large. According to Child’s Rights and You (CRY), “Children constitute over one-third of India’s population of 1.21 billion people, which means India is home to 400 million children.”
There are primarily two kinds of child labourers in this town. The first-where the children work part time, like Vipun, and attend school. In another, more horrifying picture, children who are sometimes as young as 5-years-old, work full time for this industry. Meagre pay and atrocious, unhygienic work conditions have relegated their lives to a condition of extreme trauma. Several investigations, case studies and reports have been carried out to put a halt to this. Even though the country has several laws and acts related to the issue of child labour like The Factories Act of 1948, The Mines Act of 1952, The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000, they have completely failed to gain effect. As per reports, Ministry of Labour and Employment, which is officially responsible to implement the National Child Labour Project Scheme, has opened some schools. However, the everyday battle these innocent ones have been thrust into, leave little space in their lives to study or even dream of studying.
When a child is born in this world, as per a United Nations Convention on Child Rights, he/she is entitled to the fundamental rights of survival, development, protection and participation. Interact with a child from Firozabad and ten minutes into the conversation, you would be convinced that these ‘rights’ have been reduced to a farce. Their development, physical and mental, has been deterred by abject poverty. Their participation in daily affairs has boiled down to monotonously engaging in hours of wretched work. Surviving the storm is the only thing they know but it is far from being a ‘fundamental right’;Â it is rather the only alternative they have to dying.
The fight is on. NGOs like CRY have been working day in and day out to sensitize people about this rampant ill. Child Line is ever alert to rescue child labourers. The police force is there to register cases. The ground is prepared; the only thing it now requires in action from our part. The voice of conscience that we stifle on seeing a child labourer at a tea shack, or an underage domestic help, needs to make itself heard. We forget that no matter what the situation, giving up several innocent dreams to hold a broom and sweep the streets can never be the choice of a 7-year-old. Whatever may be the case, it now directly falls on the society’s shoulders to rescue these kids and save their childhood. We need to constantly, incessantly and without fail, remind ourselves of the fact that there are several avenues open before us to actively fight this. All we need to do is take that big first step.
Pledge your support to stop child labourÂ here.