The Anti-Slavery Collective in conversation with Niharika Chopra

Niharika Chopra

This time on our working from home conversation series, our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, speak to Niharika Chopra. Niharika is the Director of Policy Research at the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. 

Today, 12th June, is World Day Against Child Labour. This year, the day is focusing on the impact of crisis on child labour. The COVID-19 health pandemic and its resulting economic and labour market shock could push millions of children into child labour. We speak to Niharika about how COVID-19 poses great risks to vulnerable children and how Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation is working to mitigate these risks. 

Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation works in source areas for child trafficking, where poverty is high and quality of education is low. The extreme vulnerability of these communities has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as debt bondage has increased and schools have closed. Niharika emphasises that whilst COVID-19 did not create these problems, it has exposed them. As such, it is now time for an urgent and collective effort to protect and prioritise the rights of the most marginalised and vulnerable children. We have less than five years to achieve the eradication of child labour, as laid out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We must act now!

Niharika’s story of hope – the story of Champa, a survivor of child labour and child marriage, who ensured that her village no longer had child labourers or child brides – is an inspirational testimony to the importance of a child-centred, survivor-led approach. We are so inspired by Niharika and Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation’s dedication to a world where every child is free, safe, healthy and educated. 

The effects of COVID-19 in India for children

Niharika makes clear that exploitation and trafficking is not in lockdown. It is in full motion and will be getting worse. As we have heard from previous guests also, the lockdown of COVID-19 has been as harmful as the virus itself for some of the most marginalised and vulnerable in society.

The lockdown has left millions of people unemployed. Uniquely in India, this unemployment has displaced millions of migrant workers. Now, back home in their villages and without income or opportunities, many have been forced to take on huge debts to survive. The inability to repay this debt will push families – adults and children – into generations of bonded labour, a form of slavery.

The lockdown has also closed schools around the world; Niharika tells us that 90% of the world’s school population are now out of school. This forced discontinuation of education is likely to have grave consequences for children, especially for young girls. 

Niharika explains how inter-state child trafficking for the purpose of child marriage is continuing despite the lockdowns. After lockdown is lifted, it is expect that child marriage will increase as children are out of school and their families believe that their only viable option for survival is to marry of their child. It has been reported that 4 million more girls are at risk of being forced into marriage in the next two years due to COVID-19. 

COVID-19 Response

Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation is facing these huge challenges through relief work. Humanitarian relief that addresses the essential needs of vulnerable communities, as we also heard last week from Arise, is the best form of anti-slavery work during this pandemic, protecting communities now and in the future. 

The Foundation has been reaching out and providing relief to communities whose children are extremely vulnerable to the social and economic shocks of this pandemic. Amazingly, Niharika tells us that they are supporting over 25,000 families, including over 72,000 children in the Child Friendly Villages  in Jharkhand, Bihar, Uar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation has also been working to identify and reach child labourers. Thousands of children, having been abandoned by their traffickers at the start of lockdown, are now trapped without wages, food or a means to come home. 

Niharika highlights the call of 88 Nobel Laureates and World Leaders for the world’s governments to unite and prioritize the world’s children during their lockdowns and in the aftermath. The Laureates and Leaders for Children, founded by Kailash Satyarthi, believe that 20% of the COVID-19 response should be directed to the poorest 20% of humanity. Those in extreme need, the most marginalised and vulnerable children, must not be forgotten in COVID-19 responses. 

What can you do? 

Today, on World Day Against Child Labour, it is important to raise awareness of this global issue. A total of 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – are estimated to be in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in ten of all children worldwide.

You can also donate. Niharika mentions the crowdfunding campaign that supports the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of child trafficking. The Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), started in 1980 by Nobel Peace Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi, is India’s largest movement for the protection of children. BBA works with law enforcement agencies and policy makers to strengthen the system and has played a pivotal role in formulation of several laws for protection of child rights through its inputs based on years of work with children in bonded and forced labour. To date, BBA has directly rescued more than 90,000 children from the clutches of child labour and other forms of exploitation.

Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation

Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, envisions a world where every child is free, safe, healthy and educated. Their mission is to end all forms of violence against children including child trafficking, child labour and slavery. 

The Foundation engages children and youth in its various initiatives and works towards greater collaboration between governments, businesses and communities to ensure effective implementation of national and international laws relating to children. It also partners with other key stakeholders in child rights protection and promotion for realisation of a child friendly world. As Niharika tells us, they believe an end to end approach is the only way that a child can be protected. 

Niharika tells us about the Foundations’ Child Friendly Villages. Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) is their flagship programme to prevent all kinds of exploitation of children, and ensure their education and empowerment in rural communities. The guiding principles of BMG programme include ensuring that all child labourers are withdrawn from work, all children are enrolled in and attend school, children participate in democratic decision making through formation of Bal Panchayats (elected children’s council) and ensuring that the Bal Panchayats are recognised by the village council. 

The Foundation’s approach is not only child-centric, but also survivor-centric. They encourage survivors to work within the villages from where they were trafficked to prevent further trafficking. Niharika tells us the story of one girl, who was a child labourer and also vulnerable to child marriage. Having been rescued, she took the lead in ensuring that child labour and child marriage no longer existed in her community. It is incredible to hear about survivor-led change. 

To find out more about the Foundation, visit their website

World Day Against Child Labour

World Day Against Child Labour 2020 focuses on the impact of crisis on child labour. The COVID-19 health pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shock are having a huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. This year, the World Day is conducted as a virtual campaign and is being organized jointly with the Global March Against Child Labour and the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA).

Niharika tells us that, today, the Foundation is hosting a national e-summit to focus on how India, as part of their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, will overcome problems presented by COVID-19 and accelerate their efforts to end child labour by 2025. The Anti-Slavery Collective love to see that the Foundation is convening stakeholders from across sectors to ensure that children everywhere are free, safe and educated amidst this crisis, and beyond.

What do you think?