Patna: On October 10 – the day when the new law on child labour came into effect – the children of Bihar took the centre stage of an awareness campaign against child labour. They formed human chains, took pledges after morning prayers in schools and declared they would not tolerate employment of children either in their homes or around themselves.
"Child labour is a menace and needs to stop," said Nikhil, a class V student of Don Bosco School, Patna as he stood in a human chain. Earlier in the day, in an assembly dedicated to the child labour situation in India and Bihar, students expressed their feelings. "Is it right friends, that some of us do not have a school to go to, that some of us have to work? Do we do nothing about it?" asked a student of St. Michael's School, Patna.
The campaign, supported by UNICEF and the Labour Department, started a week before the law banning employment of children as domestic labour was enforced. It began with a few schools and children reading out pledges and forming human chains as they displayed a sticker saying "my house is child labour-free".
In a few days it travelled to the districts and schools in Vaishali, Nalanda, among others, reported similar rallies and human chains. "We are overwhelmed with the children's involvement. By educating and mobilising their parents, the children have an important role to play," said UNICEF State Representative Bijaya Rajbhandari. The media for nearly two weeks continuously covered the campaign, helping the word to spread far into the districts.
With Bihar accounting for 8.9 per cent of the child labour in India in the 5 to 14 age group (Census, 2001), the state faces the challenge of getting its children into school, not work. The total number of children as main workers (working for more than six months) is about 0.54 million, while children in marginal work (who work for less than 6 months) is approximately 0.58 million (Census 2001). "The challenge is huge, but we believe that children can be taken off work and sent to school with enforcement of laws and education options being available to them," says Mr. Rajbhandari.
As the campaign picked up, children's voices rose above the usual din. They raised slogans such as “Education is our birth right”, “Stop Child Labour”, “Bacche Mange teen Adhikaar, Roti Shiksha Poora Pyar” (children demand their three rights – food, education and, above all, love)” A 12-year-old student of St. Paul’s High School, Tarbia Jamil, also the School Leader, said, "Child labour is a crime against humanity. I will work against employment of children."
As school after school in Patna undertook a campaign, reports started trickling in from the districts. The media played the role of partners in the campaign and newspapers were full of stories and photos day after day on the campaign.
Some children went a step further. Some of them said that groups of students would visit houses and apartments asking people not to engage child labour. "If householders refuse to cooperate, we will register complaints with the toll free Childline number 1098 (which records complaints related to children)," they said.
In the wake of the notification, a State Action Plan for elimination of child labour and their rehabilitation has been prepared by UNICEF in collaboration with the Labour and related departments. Discussion for implementation of the plan is underway. The second leg of the campaign is scheduled to start early in November and culminate on Children's Day, 14th November.
(Contributed by Job Zachariah, Simrit Kaur and Anupam Srivastava)