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STC logoEditor’s Note: With #TheInvisibles, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save the Children India have joined hands to advocate for the rights of children in street situations in India. Share your stories of what you learned while interacting with street children, what authorities can do to ensure their rights are met, and how we can together fight child labour. Add a post today!

By Lipi Mehta:

This Diwali, I walked out of home and a firecracker burst near my foot. Frustrated, I sat on a ledge near my house, nursing my foot, wondering how years have passed, but nothing has changed. Every year, the post-Diwali hangover can be seen in a city’s air and on its streets – in the smog and dust, in children trying to salvage half-burst crackers, and in the paper, cardboard and plastic that once used to be crackers, choking the streets. As I tried to look for an auto through the smog, I thought about another thing that hasn’t changed – the cost at which these festivities take place.

Years ago, I was given that guilt-trip of a lesson in school – when I learned that some children were exploited to make firecrackers “because they have small hands”. I also clearly remember learning then that a place called ‘Sivakasi’ (a big ‘child labour hub’ for making firecrackers) exists in Tamil Nadu. And now, with some more research, I found that in such places, “Children in the age group of 5-15 work for more than 12 hours a day and earn paltry sum as wages for their back breaking work.”

This lesson of mine took place over 10 years ago, but there is NO change! It’s frustrating to walk out of home after every Diwali and see this “vision” of child labour a.k.a. slavery all over my street. And it’s not like there haven’t been any wake-up signs. Just two years ago, in 2014, a blast at a firecracker unit in Andhra killed 11 people. The Additional Superintendent of Police of the area said only one of the deceased was aged over 16.

Firecrackers, of course, aren’t probably the only products we consume in our everyday lives that have been made by child labour. The exploitation makes its way through almost every industry.

For Our Gorgeous Hair And Skin

The shimmer in many of our shampoos and makeup products come from mica that is mined in large quantities in Jharkhand and Bihar. Terre Des Hommes, an organisation that works against child exploitation, found that an estimated 20,000 children work in these mines, in often un-monitored conditions. They also face risks of collapse and lung diseases. And according to a report by campaign group DanWatch, the finished products are then even exported to huge brands such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder. The problem is so severe and current that since June 2016, seven children have been killed in such mines, as per a Reuters investigation.

To Ramp Up Our Style Quotient

As per this write-up, children as young as 10 in Delhi work in textile factories, in “conditions close to slavery” to produce clothes for international brands such as Gap. In fact, The Observer discovered that the serial numbers on clothes made by children in filthy sweatshops in the city corresponded with Gap’s own inventory. As a child who was “lucky enough” to get sweatshirts from Gap, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to digest this.

For iPhones, This Changes Everything

When the iPhone 7 launched in India, I remember seeing a HUGE line in a mall in Saket, Delhi – of people waiting to buy it. Amidst such excitement across the world, Amnesty International called out Apple in just one Tweet: “Congrats on the new #iPhone7 @tim_cook — but does it contain cobalt mined by children in #DRC?” Amnesty published a report earlier this year about how children mine cobalt in Congo, the main material that goes into making batteries for Apple products. Amnesty contacted 16 multinationals, including Samsung and Tesla. There were a mixed bag of responses, however, none of them provided enough details to independently verify where their cobalt came from.

Not Even Chai

A BBC story reveals that children work full time in some tea estates in Assam, in poor health conditions. Some have been employed since they were in their early teens. The story adds that “children come in so weak from malnutrition they struggle to recover from curable illnesses, and then quickly relapse after they are released from hospital.”

Not All Sweet As Chocolate

It’s no secret that for our guilty pleasures and the company’s profits, children skip school and their childhoods to work on cocoa farms, where they experience gruelling routines and physical abuse. Many children are trafficked from various parts of Africa for this very purpose. However, we the consumers, enjoy the fruits of their labour, while they suffer in silence. So, the next time you bite into that KitKat, stop for a second, and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

Children Tied Up In Knots

This Harvard study mentions that over 3,200 cases across nine Indian states have come up, of bonded labour, human trafficking and child labour being used to make carpets. These carpets are then exported to some of the world’s biggest retail chains.

A Childhood Locked Up

Aligarh’s thriving lock industry is also a huge employer of child labour. As per a study, about 10,000 to 40,000 children are working in this industry, engaged in professions such as polishing and buffing machines, assembling, spray painting, etc. Some children are as young as 5 to 6 years.

Honestly, as a consumer, I am thoroughly disturbed that I haven’t asked enough questions about the products I’ve been buying all these years. I can spend half an hour on a food app, on what to order for dinner, but I don’t spend more than a minute checking if the everyday products I consume are products of child slavery. Maybe you’ve done this, too. Well, it’s not okay that thousands of children spend the most important years of their lives in back-breaking labour while we help companies profit over this exploitation. We have the power to do a few checks and ethically boycott products that are made by children. As a consumer, the power is in your hands – to call out companies that exploit children via social media, choose brands that are progressive (or at least making inroads in this direction) and demand accountability from business leaders. Only if we demand better, will they (the companies) give us better.

The onus is on us too, right?

Featured Image Credit: JudaM/ Pixabay

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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