Anas Mohammed, 11, poses for a photograph outside his home in Moradabad city in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. A former child labourer, Anas is in school thanks to UNICEF-supported Child Rights Project.
By Patricia Lone
MORADABAD, India. 29 February 2012. From the ages of 8 to 10, Anas spent 10 hours a day, six days a week fanning the furnace fire in a smoke-filled workshop in the Moradabad slum where metals were melted and moulded for use in the metal ware industry. He earned less than a quarter of a dollar a day.
Moradabad is a bustling manufacturing city, which attracts large numbers of unskilled workers who vie for low-paying jobs pulling rickshaws or driving small taxis. Many others earn slightly more working 12 hours a day melting, casting, smoothing, polishing or welding the brass, aluminium and iron, for the city’s renowned metal and brassware.
As beautiful as the final products are though, the conditions under which most of the workers live and labour are difficult.
Workshops are crowded closely in together with houses in the congested slums, where soot, smoke, exhaust fumes and the odour of melting metals permeates the atmosphere. Open drains line the narrow alleys, leaving barely enough room to walk. There are no places where children can play.
The piece work turned out by the small factories pays poorly and poverty drives children, like Anas, into labour. In India, 41.6 per cent of people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report.
Anas’s father was a rickshaw puller who earned about $2 a day and the income barely met the family of five’s needs. Anas was worried about his grandfather, who needed costly medicine the family could hardly afford, and so was easily drawn into the dangerous metal trade. He bears a visible scar of the danger, on his foot, which was burned by molten metal.
"The concentration of wealth in urban areas hides the ugly face of poverty,” said Adele Khudr, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Uttar Pradesh. “Children of the urban poor are exposed to various forms of violence and exploitation. To protect them, we must ensure that they are in school, so that they can realize their full potential. The Right to Education Act adopted by the Government of India in 2010 provides the framework for this to happen."
Now 11 years old, Anas is out of the workshop, in school and doing well, his life transformed by India’s Right to Education Act and a UNICEF-supported Child Rights Project, which is funded by the Ikea Foundation. The project works in 101 slums of Moradabad, in western Uttar Pradesh, to make the Right to Education Act a reality for poor children like Anas.
School is an oasis of calm in the chaos and it gives much needed structure to children’s lives, which have so few opportunities to gather, to play together, to simply be children.
Working through five implementing partners, the project systematically identified more than 14,000 girls and boys as being out of school through surveys in the slums of Moradabad. Children out of school are at high risk of being drawn into labour, so once the children were identified, vigorous outreach began, to communities and families, as well as to schools, to ensure that the children were enrolled.
The project also reaches nearly 70,000 poor families and 55,000 children, through a network of community groups run by trained animators. Groups of women and adolescents meet regularly to discuss the “10-Point Agenda for Children,” developed for the community outreach by UNICEF.
The Agenda offers critical information on topics such as the importance of birth registration, immunization, safe delivery and breastfeeding, nutritional supplementation, hygiene, primary education and ending child marriage and child labour.
Nagma is a spirited 15-year-old whose life has also been transformed thanks to the project. Two years ago Nagma was working six hours a day sewing decorative beads onto fabrics instead of learning. Like Anas, her earnings – less than a dollar a day – were needed to help her family scrape by.
Today Nagma is an active and happy student, an inspiration to her brother and sisters, and an influence in her community, participating actively in one of the adolescent groups that meet regularly to discuss the 10-Point Agenda for Children.
One message she never tires of sharing with friends and across her community, is that families should keep their children in school, because it is good for the family as well as for the child. “Educated children can support their parents better,” she says simply.