In India, many children in poverty are forced to “traffick” themselves to avoid starvation. Arun Kumar, a 14-year-old from Patna, Indiawasn’t captured and forced to work, but instead sold himself to a “labor contractor.” He worked brutal 18-hour-days in a local mill and was paid 800 rupees per month (roughly equivalent to 20 US dollars). New York Times reporter Sonia Faliero interviewed Kumar about his experience as a child laborer: “When I asked Kumar who had sent him to the mill, he said: ‘No one. I went because I wanted to…When the vegetables run out…We eat plain rotis’ — an unleavened bread. ‘And when the rotis run out I will return to work.’” Kumar is not alone. It is estimated that there are 17 million child laborers in India—many of whom believe that they “need to work to survive.” (Faliero’s eye-opening interview with Arun Kumar).
Pressure from child advocacy groups has led the Indian government to start amending their existing law--The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. This three-part Act, as it was originally written, does a number of things. Firstly, it defines a child as a person who has not yet reached the age of 14 (meaning that the day you turn 15, you’re no longer protected). Secondly, it details the where, when, and how a child may be legally employed. There are strict rules about the amount of time a child can work, as well as a detailed list of jobs too dangerous for child laborers (i.e. railroad work, brick kilns, factories producing plastic, etc.) Despite these rules, it is important to note that with little government regulation, employers easily slip through the cracks—breaking one or more tenants of this law meant to protect children with impunity.
The proposed amendment would outlaw ALL forms of child labor, as well as redefine a “child” as someone that has not yet reached the age of 18 (More on this amendment here). This amendment would also comply with India’s RTE Act—which states that a “free and compulsory” education should be provided to every child between the ages of 6 and 14.
This is a great push in the right direction—pass legislation that will get kids out of the factory and into the classroom. Great solution, in theory—but is anything truly that easy? Right now, the government lacks the resources (money, trained teachers, materials, etc.) to provide education to all of its children. Currently, only about half of all children in India attend school, and most that do end up dropping out (More here). The ones that make it to school are typically in over-crowed and understaffed environments. One school in India wascited as having two teachers for 300 students. On top of that—if children like Kumar are in school all day and their parents or other guardians can’t afford to feed them, how can they eat? At age six—many children need to make the horrific choice between an education and a meal. Which would you choose?
So, this brings me to my final question–how can we be a part of the solution? For one, we can support NGO’s that are aiming to give back to the local community in India. Fortunately, there are a LOT of groups doing good work to raise money for human rights in India. One in particular is Give India. They have worked to create a network of online giving—making it easy for people all over the world to give directly to reliable NGO’s in India (History of Give India here). They make it easy for supporters to give a little bit of money to a very specific cause (i.e. help provide permanent kitchen and food to 100 child laborers,educate 25-30 child laborers for a month, etc.). They have also set up a program calledPayroll Giving. Corporate employees at participating companies can choose to opt into this program—in which they agree to give a small amount of each paycheck to Give India. Some socially conscious corporations, like Cadbury and HSBC, have decided to participate in this fantastic program.
If you don’t have a ton of money lying around to send all over the globe, don’t worry – you can still have an impact! As conscious consumers, we wield a lot of power. By purchasingfair trade goods, and avoiding goods produced with child labor, we are telling companies that we have absolutely no interest in products made by children.
Have questions? Other ideas? We want to hear from you… Get involved in the conversation here or on our Facebook page.
p.h. note: Part of being an informed consumer means understanding the larger context of human rights issues – which our blog posts aim to help you do. In the course of exploring these issues, some posts, like this one, may mention other organizations – this isn’t meant to be an endorsement, just a starting point for you to determine where and how you want to help. To learn more about what goods and services use the worst forms of child labor in their supply chains, we strongly encourage you to check out the Department of Labor’s annual report on countries around the world and their international commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. DOL started publishing these reports in 2002 and, in 2009, began to offer findings and recommended actions to prevent or reduce the worst forms of child labor.