This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aprajita. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Marginalized, Vulnerable, Exploited: What Happens To The Child Workers Stranded Right Now?

More from Aprajita

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
Expressing his concern on the rising cases of child labor, trafficking amid this lockdown, Mr Kailash Satyarthi has written a letter to the PM.

The last thing Nobel Peace Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi will ever do is to compromise on the safety and security of the children. In his recent letter to Prime Minister Modi, he has urged Mr Modi to grant three-month impunity to those employers who voluntarily release child labourers from their premises. This seems to be a last-ditch effort to save the lives of millions of those child labourers who are held captive in asphyxiating workshops, factories, homes, farms, stone quarries, brick kilns, etc. amidst corona pandemic.

In Mr Satyarthi’s documentary, The Price of Free, I have seen the way child labourers are made to work from morning until midnight in small crammed up factories without enough food, water, ventilation and hygiene. Considering the onslaught of COVID-19, the bonded child labourers are very susceptible to contracting infection—because these children are not even considered humans let alone ensuring any precautions like social distancing for them.

In the present lockdown, ever since the economy has come to a grinding halt, the worst affected have been the third tier, fourth tier workshops (in the unorganized sector) where child labourers are actually found. The employers have fled, leaving the child labourers to fend for themselves. Children stuffed in small dingy shanties do not have any means of sustenance. Either hunger or coronavirus might kill these child labourers sooner than later. Under this do-or-die situation facing the child labourers, Mr Satyarthi wrote this letter to the Prime Minister to intervene before it is too late.

Jamlo Makdam, the 12-year-old girl from Chhattisgarh who had been trafficked to work as a child labourer in the chilli fields of Telangana, died walking on foot for over 150 kms back home. It is a chilling reminder of the ordeals of the most marginalized, vulnerable and exploited children of our country. It is the collective failure of the government, the corporate and the society at large who could not ensure the life and safety of the 12-year-old girl.

Where were the stringent laws against child labour and trafficking when Jamlo was being exploited? Why was the Right to Education Act not implemented in the first place to keep Jamlo safe at school? Where was the Juvenile Justice Act that was created for children in need of care and protection? In which file were the ethical codes of conduct/responsible buying norms of the company sourcing raw material from those chilli fields gathering dust?

Image only for representation. Via Flickr.

Besides this, the way the most marginalized children are dying out of exploitation also shows how our international commitments towards Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are being flouted, trivialized and disrespected. Coming back to the emergency of enslaved child labourers who are battling hunger, bondage and coronavirus all at the same time, they must be released immediately!

So that the other entrapped child labourers do not meet the same fate, Mr Satyarthi, in sheer exasperation, must have written to the Prime Minister for bringing out a special notification to give a three months’ waiver to the employers that they will not be punished if they voluntarily release the child labourers trapped in their premises.

Equate this situation to income tax defaulters. The government many a time gives a finite window to those who evade tax to voluntarily declare their income, pay the pending tax and be spared from prosecution or punitive action. This strategy has worked in the past, and it may work in case of voluntarily releasing the child labourers as well.

The life of children is of paramount importance here. Prosecution of an employer can never take precedence when it comes to the life and death of a child. These are extraordinary times, which call for extraordinary response, Mr Satyarthi proposed to the Prime Minister in his letter. Even in this letter, he has urged the government to ensure food, shelter and medical treatment for the released child labourers during the lockdown and safe repatriation as soon as the lockdown is lifted.

Looking at the long term scenario with his wisdom and foresightedness, he has also requested Prime Minister Modi to constitute an inter-ministerial task force to devise and implement a concrete action plan for curbing child trafficking when this crime will see a sharp spike in the post-COVID-19 period.

I have read a lot about Mr Satyarthi and seen several of his interviews. Despite numerous attacks on him and his colleagues and even in the face of his home and office being gutted several times, he never resorted to any form of violence. Three of his colleagues gave the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.

After being brutally attacked by the Circus Mafias in June 2004, when he staged a hunger protest in front of the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh, he kept appealing to his activists to maintain calm. Hatred or violence was never what he wanted to return to society. His emphatic and peaceful protest led to the judiciary and law enforcement machinery swing into action, finally leading to the rescue of the Nepalese girls who were enslaved in the circus.

He has always said that his fight is against the exploitation of children and not the industry. A person who has devoted his entire life for the cause of the most marginalized children will always give utmost importance to their life, health, safety, freedom and education exactly in that order.

Mr Satyarthi is the loudest voice globally to fight for the rights of the children. It is only due to his efforts that several bold national and international laws protecting our children could see the light of the day. All the laws have deterring punishments for the offenders. His movement has been relentlessly fighting for over 40 years to restore justice for the rescued survivors of child labour, bonded labour, trafficking, child sexual exploitation and other crimes against children. He and his activists have been moving the courts of law to ensure compensation for the rescued children and strictest punishment for the offenders so that these crimes could be curbed!

While the voice of the civil society may be divided whether Mr Satyarthi did right in proposing a three months’ waiver to the employers of child labourers, I have absolutely no doubt that he did this for the safety of millions of child labourers who are trapped in hell holes amidst this pandemic. All battles can be fought later. Right now, we have to do everything to save the lives of the enslaved child labourers because “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” (You won’t get the life back).

Note: The author is a child rights activist.

You must be to comment.

More from Aprajita

Similar Posts

By Simran Pavecha

By khabar khand

By Rachna Singh

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below