A group of youth leaders, some of whom had survived tumultuous childhoods as forced child labourers, were felicitated in the national capital on Friday. Together, they rejected the forces of exploitation and injustice and demanded a collective effort to end child labour in the country.
These youth leaders were participating in the national consultation on the eradication of child labour by 2025, organised by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF).
These youth leaders demanded a special scheme for the rescue and rehabilitation of child labourers. They sought the establishment of residential schools for rescued children and enhanced budgetary allocation for child welfare schemes, especially for child labourers. For an effective rescue and rehabilitation policy, they urged the government to declare all 749 districts in India under the National Child Labour Project Scheme (NCLPS) and initiate a technology-based monitoring scheme for its effective implementation.
The nine youth leaders who were felicitated have been a catalyst of social change. At present, they lead from the front to end multiple forms of child exploitation and other socio-economic inequalities in their own villages and states.
Surjeet Lodhi, 18, from Vidisha district in Madhya Pradesh has helped scores of children in his village get access to education. For his efforts to bring about a positive change, Surjeet was conferred with the prestigious Diana Award in 2021. His crusade against alcohol and spreading awareness for education has made him an inspiration for other children.
“The existing law against child labour should be effectively implemented. We also request the government to pass the anti-trafficking bill as most of the children are trafficked for forced labour,” Surjeet said.
Five of the felicitated youth leaders are from Rajasthan. Three among them: Amar Lal, Tara Banjara, Rajesh Jatav recently represented India in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) fifth global conference on the elimination of child labour in Durban.
25-year-old Amar Lal works as a child rights lawyer and a social activist. From the age of seven years, he worked with his father at a stone quarry to supplement his family’s income. He was rescued by Kailash Satyarthi in 2001. Tara Banjara, 17, from Nimdi village in Alwar district spent her childhood years as a road construction worker. She is now the voice of her nomadic banjara community. At present, she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree and aspires to be a police officer.
Rajesh Jatav, 21, hails from Akbarpur village in Bharatpur district. An eight-year-old Rajesh was rescued from a brick kiln and brought to Bal Ashram-a rehabilitation and training centre of BBA at Viratnagar. At present, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science at Delhi University.
Two girls from the state: Lalita Duhariya, 17 and Payal Jangid, 19, are notable for their contributions to bringing social transformation. Both have received the Reebok fit to fight award. Lalita hails from Dera village of Jaipur district. She is an active member of Bal Mitra Gram or Child-Friendly Village–an initiative of KSCF to ensure every child is free, safe and educated. An awardee of the Ashoka Young Changemaker Award, she has been actively involved in raising awareness about the importance of girls’ education and preventing school dropouts.
“I travelled miles, knocked on every door of the houses in and around my village to check if there are children who are not attending school. We would have long discussions with the families and encourage them to send their children to school,” Lalita said.
Payal Jangid, from Hinsla village in Alwar district is an integral part of the Bal Mitra Gram. She has fought against child labour, child labour and the social evil of restraining women through ghoonghat or veil. In 2013, when members of the Swedish council had come to review her work, they were impressed and chose her as a jury member for the World’s children’s prize. She is also the recipient of Global Goal keeper award given by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“I make efforts to unite the children of my village. Children must come together and raise their voices against all forms of injustice. Education is the greatest tool of empowerment for us,” she said.
Three children from Jharkhand who were felicitated include Neeraj Murmu, 22, Champa Kumari, 16 and Radha Kumari 17. These youth leaders have sparked the movement of social change in their state and are enduring examples of grit, strength and determination.
Neeraj Murmu hails from Duriakaram village in Giridih district and toiled in the Mica mines from the young age of 10 years. He was rescued by BBA activists in 2011. He then resolved to fight child labour. Murmu has rescued more than 20 children from the Mica mines and raised awareness about the importance of education in fighting forced labour. As a youth leader, he linked several impoverished families to government-sponsored schemes. He received the Diana Award in 2020.
“Empowering children by providing them with education can fight the menace of child labour. To make our villages safe from trafficking for child labour, collective efforts from the village residents as well as government officials are required. Along with a proper rehabilitation policy of rescued children, we need stricter laws,” he said.
Yet another Diana Awardee from the state was Champa Kumari. She was rescued from the Mica mines by BBA activists at the age of 12 years. Over the years, she has fought against child marriage and worked relentlessly to make her district free from child labour. Her resolve to end multiple forms of child exploitation has won her numerous accolades and awards.
“I will continue to fight against child labour and the social evil of child marriage. It is a tough fight, but worth fighting for,” she said
Another youth pioneering the movement against child marriage, child labour and child trafficking is Radha Kumari from Madhuban panchayat in Koderma district. For her dogged efforts in preventing child marriages, and empowering girls, the district administration has designated her as the district’s brand ambassador against child marriage.
“To stop child marriages completely, we need to change the prevailing notions and perceptions of our society, especially towards girl children,” she said.
Appreciating the efforts of these changemakers, Sanjay Chander, Director General (DG), RPF felicitated them. “The fight against child labour cannot be won in a single day. It is an ongoing battle having socio-economic, legal and political repercussions. However, the stories of these children give us hope and strengthen our resolve to fight the menace of child labour,” he said.