JAIPUR, India — The city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, India is a hub for the production of jewelry—especially bangles and intricate textiles. Although child labor is restricted in India, currently, many of these products are rendered by children working illegally in dangerous conditions. However, recent government strategies may be turning the tide in combating child labor in Jaipur.
Child Labor Statistics
Rajasthan has an estimated 250,000 child workers—among the most in the country. About 80 percent of children employed in Jaipur are trafficked from the state of Bihar, 20 hours away by car. More than half of them are ages 10-14 years old. The most vulnerable youth are targeted for trafficking: mostly Muslim (45 percent of Bihar, but 14 percent of India overall), lower caste, impoverished and from homes with dysfunction or in transition.
In 2005, the government of India NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) measured child labor rates finding they are highest among Muslim Indians—about 40 percent higher than Hindus. As undocumented laborers with few protections, they work long shifts—as many as 18 hours at a time in unsafe conditions. They suffer injuries—especially to their vision—and illnesses, live far from their families, are denied an education and overall, are treated poorly.
According to the 2017 State Action Plan, “Child labor is caused by a diverse range of compulsions, deprivations, systemic deficiencies or vested Interests…” With an uneven economy, the construct of a labor-free childhood is complicated for many Indians. Due to economic constraints, illiteracy, insufficient quality teachers and schools in remote areas and cultural expectations about work, many rural families engage their children in whole-family work by age 15, if lucky, using basic literacy as the time to end formal schooling. Additionally, vulnerable children are abducted by traffickers and sold to workshops for labor.
Since the 1940s, India has enacted waves of research and policies combating child labor in Jaipur and other parts of the country. In 1986, The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act defined a child as persons 0-14 years and made their employment illegal. In 2009, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act strengthened child-labor laws by promising a free education for anyone under the age of 14. Additionally, India’s constitution guarantees people ages 15-18 are restricted from dangerous mine work, military and trafficking and have rights to a minimum wage. Unfortunately, rigorous enforcement has not always followed.
But, there are signs that recent policies may usher real change. In 2018, The Indian Union Cabinet cleared the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, promising to raise the budget and 10 years imprisonment for human-trafficking, including begging, marriage, prostitution or labor. Further, at the encouragement of U.N., this legislation provides for immediate protection for victims’ physical and mental care, education, skill development, health care and legal assistance.
Since its passage, children rescued from workshops are getting care and access to rehabilitation services. In addition, NGOs are working with the government to transition the youth, using paid and volunteer staff. A multi-pronged approach is necessary, building the capacity of teachers and other agencies supporting the National Child Labour Project Schools. Government-NGO partnerships are working to identify illegal factories, release juvenile workers and repatriate them with their families when possible.
Volunteer with India is one of many NGOs working to locate trafficked youth, rehabilitate them for four months and then work to return them to their families. During the four-month rehabilitation, children eat well, voraciously learn subjects like English, math and writing and have a clean place to sleep. Government oversight—the threat of jail tie and fines—is improving the likelihood that returned children will not be abducted again.
Specific to Bihar, the State Action Plan for Elimination of Child Labour and Prohibition and Regulation of Adolescent Labour of 2017 strengthened efforts to curtail child labor locally. These plans include specific actions to take at train-stations and other places where children are abducted in Bihar, intervening in common transit patterns of traffickers like trains and also at the factories in Jaipur. Legislators wrote that the complexity of the problem stretches across culture and economics and will involve many agents including schools, government agents and NGO’s. Additionally, public awareness campaigns that promote the labeling of non-profit Goodweave’s ‘child labor free’ certification of carpets is now extended to textiles, apparel and jewelry products from Jaipur. These efforts at combating child labor in Jaipur and all of India.
– Heather Hughes