Last month, World Day Against Child Labour made us reflect on a trip we took last year to India with the Freedom Fund, an international NGO that partners with frontline communities to end modern slavery.
Jaipur is bursting with sounds, smells, colour and people. It is one of the most fascinating places we have ever visited, and we were struck by the magnetic nature of this city. However, the reason for our visit was to learn from some of the incredible grassroots organisations at the forefront of combatting child labour and exploitation.
In Jaipur, a wide range of partners have joined together to confront one of the colourful city’s darkest secrets: the pervasive use of child labour. Child Labour Free Jaipur (CLFJ), an initiative coordinated by the Freedom Fund, takes a holistic approach, working closely with communities, industries, state government and law enforcement, to eradicate the widespread trafficking and exploitation of children.
Our first visit was to the famous markets of Jaipur that overflow with splendour: beautiful bangles, textiles and handicrafts. We could not believe how many bangles covered the walls, in identical shops on every street, from floor to ceiling. However, many of these desirable goods are the products of child labour workshops, hidden away from domestic and international tourists. The harsh truth is that thousands of children are trafficked, many from the state of Bihar, to work in these workshops.
Next, we visited Bhatta Basti, a neighbourhood with a large concentration of child labour workshops producing bangles, textiles and jewellery . We met with several different organisations that are doing everything in their power to create a lasting impact in their communities.
Firstly, we visited Labour Education and Development Society (LEDS), a local NGO in the heart of the neighbourhood. LEDS supports the community to build resistance to child labour and helps families access government entitlements, leading to increased economic stability. It was a very special moment as we sat on the floor with local women, with the rain pouring down and beating against the tin roof of the community centre. We saw incredible dedication and courage in each and every one of them.
After speaking with local women from LEDS, we walked through the now wet and muddy neighbourhood and were welcomed into the home of a member of a SEWA Bharat self-help group, where women were tie-dying dupattas. Later we visited SEWA Bharat’s training centre, where women were learning sewing skills.
In neighbourhoods like Bhatta Basti, the Freedom Fund also partners with Access Development Services, an organisation that trains and empowers female entrepreneurs to run their own producer companies. CLFJ helps female artisans to cut out the middleman and make direct linkages to the market, allowing them to earn higher wages for their work.
We were inspired by the solidarity and extraordinary sense of community we witnessed in Bhatta Basti. The women we met were incredible, caring and lively; all working together to find a way through their challenges, building each other up and creating a powerful support network. In a world where humans are so quick to tear each other down, it was heartening to seelocal grassroots NGOs working hand-in-hand with the community to resist child labour.
We visited Taabar Bal Basera Home, a shelter for boys who have escaped child labour. As we walked up the stairs from a busy street, in the midday heat of Jaipur, we were welcomed by Ramesh Paliwal, a kind and gentle man who had started the shelter in 2007. What stood out to us first were the many photos of young boys, past and present, who have found safety at the shelter. Each is commemorated with a portrait on the wall.
These boys had mostly come from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, where discrimination and economic desperation make families highly vulnerable to the false promises of child traffickers. Taabar houses and educates these boys in a safe environment, something many have not experienced before. Taabar’s mission is to return these boys back to their families in Bihar with more self-confidence and desire for education.
In the past, many boys like these had faced a high risk of being re-trafficked after returning home. CLFJ is changing that by regularly visiting the families, assisting them to get government entitlements and enrolling the children in school. The project tries to ensure that they get the compensation they are entitled to as survivors of trafficking, so that their families become economically stable. Of the children monitored by CLFJ, only 1.6% end up back in child labour.
The boys’ faces lit up as they proudly performed the play they had created through the theatre programme at the shelter, which was all about young boys being trafficked and the warning signs to look out for. Like all school children, there was the cheekiness and playfulness you would expect in any classroom, with their different characters beaming through every smile.
We saw that this play was such an instrumental part of their education in avoiding being re-trafficked, as well as a form of art therapy and much needed fun. It was a project they were proud of and a way for them to educate us too.
One of the final visits of our trip was to Rajasthan Police Headquarters where we met Mr. Rajeev Sharma IPS, the Additional Director General. He is one of the most well respected senior police officials in Jaipur, known for prioritising the safety of children and the fight against inter-state trafficking. We were so encouraged by the dedication of the local government.
We recently sat down for a video meeting with the Freedom Fund to reminisce about our time in Jaipur last year. Much has changed since our trip and the world looks quite different. Ending the exploitation of children is all the more urgent now during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which lockdowns have placed an enormous strain on vulnerable groups, especially children. CLFJ has a long road ahead to ensure that the progress they’ve made in reducing child labour is not undone.
Our visit helped us to understand the scale of child labour in Jaipur, but also the great potential for change if we all work together. We set up The Anti-Slavery Collective on the belief that two heads are better than one and that collaboration and community are key to success.
Collaboration between diverse partners is key to ending modern slavery; we can’t stress this more. From the women in the neighbourhood of Bhatta Basti, to the Additional Director General of the Police, to the NGOs running the different homes for rescued children, all are working towards one goal: a child labour free Jaipur. In fact, CLFJ is supported through international collaboration between several funders, including the British Asian Trust, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Laudes Foundation and the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation.
As is always the mission of The Anti-Slavery Collective, we like to end with a story of hope. We have touched upon the dark areas of child labour and systemic abuse that is happening, but what we have not highlighted are the fantastic changes coming out of the work the Freedom Fund is doing with local partners in Jaipur.
Since the launch of CLFJ and thanks to the continuous hard work of local organisations, the Jaipur courts had some landmark convictions and are now focused on taking swift action against child traffickers. In six months, five convictions have been achieved, of which three are life sentences. These traffickers are no longer operating with impunity.
The mission of the Freedom Fund is to support frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery. In Jaipur, it is to prevent, identify, protect and rehabilitate children from child labour in Jaipur. CLFJ supports the Child Welfare Committee in setting up a central digital documentation system. This system ensures that all rescued children return to Bihar with all the documentation they need to apply for the benefits that help their rehabilitation and prevent them being re-trafficked.
Another major success of Child Labour Free Jaipur is that businesses have been mobilized to ensure their supply chains are sustainable and free of child labour. The programme is generating business demand for child labour free products by introducing international retailers and exporters to the GoodWeave certification. GoodWeave is also helping pioneering local businesses to map their supply chains and ensure that children are not being exploited. Already, 705 worksites are being actively monitored to prevent child labour.
We are in awe of the Freedom Fund’s commitment to ending extreme exploitation. We are inspired by the staff and partners who dedicate their lives to this fight, and by every single person coming together to support initiatives like CLFJ.
You may be wondering ‘how can I help?’ or ‘what can I do?’
Our best advice is to talk about modern slavery as much as you can; tell anyone who does not know that slavery still exists today. Educate yourselves on what is happening around the world and in your own country. Support organisations, like the ones we have highlighted here, in their mission to end slavery.
We can all end this by working together. Thank you for reading our story.
Eugenie and Jules
For more information about Child Labour Free Jaipur, please visit https://www.CLFJaipur.org