Manjari helps workers register for benefits

The pictures were striking. Millions of workers streamed out of cities, setting off to walk hundreds of miles back to their home village, just days and hours ahead of the Indian Government’s lockdown and travel ban to combat the spread of Covid. Writ large in the midst of this exodus in 2020 was the huge impact of having an unregistered workforce.

Man sits at computer, registering Indian women workers for their E-Shram card.
Women workers receiving help to register for their e-Shramik card, giving them access to employment benefits and social security.

Registration gives access to social security. Without it, a worker has no state support when times get hard. This is a situation with which Manjari, the NGO that works on the ground in the cobble-producing area of Budhpura, Rajasthan, has been familiar for many years. Whether migrants or locals, the workers are not, for the most part, registered.

Improving labour conditions for all is a vital part of creating Child Labour Free Zones. To this end, Manjari has been involved in discussions with yard owners for many years over the need to register workers so that they can access their employment rights.

Registering the e-Shramik card

The e-Shramik card—a new Government scheme—has given Manjari a welcome step forward. Set up last year to give each worker a unique 12-digit number, it allows access to employment benefits and social security.

However, for those without the latest digital devices or without access to the internet at all, registration can be difficult. Others have stepped in to fill the gap. “People are trying to get money out of it,” says Manish. “It should cost 20 to 30 rupees, but now they are charging 200 to 300 rupees.”

To help workers, Manjari has established a registration centre with Internet access, a printer and a laminating machine. “We have reached out to women in the self-help groups, for example,” he says, “and in only a few days we made a hundred cards.”

This is interesting work for Manjari, who are seeing workers who have not come forward before. It’s also very intensive. Going door to door in ten villages so far, they have ensured that, in each, every household has one. A new registration camp will shortly be set up in nearby Sukhpura. “We hope to reach all workers in the area,” he adds.

A complication is that the registration needs to be linked to a person’s Aadhaar card—essentially, an identity card that helps with access to banking and mobile phone services, among other things.

“And linking the e-Shram to their employer is very important,” says Manish. “When they get harmed or there are violations at the workplace, we need to know in which workplace they are.”

Working with businesses

Although the e-Shram is a welcome development, it’s only part of the answer. “Local businesses are maintaining their distance,” explains Manish. “Although we’ve been here for 10 to 12 years now, they’re not coming forward.”

This is not to say that much has not been achieved. One yard has an electronic machine which logs on workers via facial recognition or a thumbprint. Workers are increasingly recognising the benefits of formal work practices like this because it gives them a record of the hours they’ve worked. And informal education centres in cobbleyards have resulted in a good number of young children going on to enrol in school.

“We need to develop greater trust between all the stakeholders,” says Manish. “They become defensive. But we are not blaming them for anything, just asking for a little more—for systems that make sure every child is going to school, every worker has their rights.”

The power of positive pressure

This is where companies like London Stone and Brachot, supporters of No Child Left Behind, can add their voice. “We need positive pressure from international companies,” says Manish, “so we can make it clear that there is no harm if every child is going to school, and that having everyone registered in no way impacts the business.”

To that end London Stone and Brachot will be approaching their suppliers to encourage registration. This is something that everyone involved with landscaping can help with, whether you’re having a new garden designed, are designing one, building one, or importing landscaping materials. Show it matters how the materials are produced. “Many companies based in Europe don’t know the details of everyone in their supply chain,” says Manish.

Just start asking questions. And join us in applying positive pressure for change.

Continue Reading

Manjari Learning Spaces aid lockdown learning deficit

Two years of disruption have taken their toll on education. New community spaces aim to help children catch up.

Group of children standing in front of blue-walled building with red writing that says Manjari Learning Space in Indian script.
Children at Sukhpura Village. The writing on the wall says Manjari Learning Space.

In Stemming the Return to Child Labour we explained the impact of long lockdowns on education, and reported how Manjari, the NGO that works in Budhpura and surrounding villages, has delivered educational resources to villages and workplaces to help fill the gap resulting from school closures.

At the beginning of 2022, schools were open for a time, but then closed again. The on/off availability of the classroom is very disruptive. Manjari’s approach has evolved during the various phases of Covid and the intention is to continue with the assistance provided, even if schools reopen permanently. There is much catching-up to do, if the children are to make up for the lost learning of the last two years.

Interior of pink-walled room with numbers and letters painted on for educational purposes
Walls of the new community centres double as educational resources.

To that end, three community spaces have been created, each in a different village. One is a dedicated anganwadi—an Early Childhood Centre. These centres, the first of which were established by the government over forty years ago, provide basic healthcare in rural villages, and generally offer contraceptive advice, nutritional supplements and education, as well as pre-school activities. An anganwadi is, essentially, a government responsibility. However, as Manjari’s Manish Singh explains, “Most are not appropriate to the needs of children far from habitation, so Manjari has provided support.”

Teachers have been brought in too. “And they are doing a proper job,” says Manish, who has experience of the sometimes erratic teaching methods in rural centres, “with lesson plans. We have minimum learning levels, and a daily diary of progress.”

Pink-washed, single-storey building, an Early Childhood Care and Development Centre with man standing in doorway
An Early Childhood Care and Development Centre supported by the project.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a huge effect, both on schooling and on the previous advances made in getting children into education. However, with the need to give more help to families in the surrounding areas, Manjari’s physical presence in villages has become more visible, which is a positive step in the journey to Child Labour Free Zones.

Continue Reading

Indian sandstone’s alter ego: Polycaro visits India

By now, most actors in the natural stone sector have gotten acquainted with the Initiatief TruStone. In 2019, Flanders and the Netherlands joined forces and founded a multi-stakeholder initiative with a responsible procurement policy for sourcing natural stone from high-risk areas, supported by governments, companies, NGOs and unions. Chain transparency and care is the common thread throughout this story.

Not always obvious, but not impossible either. After all, bundled strength results in more impact. To truly understand what this is about, there is the following advice: Go see for yourself, with your own eyes, on location, where you, as a company, buy your materials from. Start the dialogue with local suppliers and search for solutions that aid all parties.

Indian sandstone is used to furnish many driveways, streets, and village squares throughout Belgium, but also in England, France, and the Netherlands many people love this product. This is because the Indian Kandla cobble stones are a great alternative to the Belgian Grès du Condroz. The reason? Very simple: Kandla cobble stones are cheaper and have shorter delivery times for any required quantity. A dream scenario for many and especially for tendering governments. Or is it?

Continue Reading

No Child Left Behind: New Funding To Improve Life For Home Workers

The continued funding of the No Child Left Behind initiative is essential for progress to continue. Here we look at why the funding is so important to the continued good work of the scheme.

No Child Left Behind, the project supported by Stoneasy & London Stone which aims to eradicate child labour in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India, is celebrating; the Dutch government has awarded funding for the next five years.

It’s a significant step forward, allowing the project to expand the solid base it has established. “They’ve given enough funding,” says London Stone Managing Director Steven Walley, “to help improvement in measured steps.”

Budhpura is in the major cobble-stone manufacturing area of Rajasthan and the obstacles to eradicating child labour completely are multiple, making a simple solution impossible. In a previous article, The NGO Playing a Central Role in Eradicating Child Labour in Budhpura, London Stone MD, Steven Walley, recounts how he thought he had the answer to eradicating a major health issue, only to realise how truly sustainable solutions need a thoroughly holistic approach.

The problems that result in child labour are thickly entwined. Limited educational facilities, discrimination, lack of fresh drinking water, health problems, migration, wages, working conditions – all of these, and more, mesh together to make one simple solution impossible.

The answer is to keep the endpoint in sight, and the aim of No Child Left Behind is to eradicate child labour in the district. Huge strides have been made in improving education, as we reported in Number Of Teachers Key To Tackling Creating Child Labour Free Zones, which means families can see much more point to children being in school. Self-help groups are helping to give women choices in their lives and improve their health.

So far, the project has concentrated on improving working conditions in the cobble yards and as a result of this good work, child labour in the yards is almost non-existent.  Now, with the new input of funding, one of the additional aims is to increase the scope of the project to improve the situation of the homeworkers. For reasons of convenience a large proportion of Sandstone cobbles are produced in backyards and on common ground. “It’s a very large community of workers,” says Steven. “and the expanded scope of the project will look to improve their working conditions too.” Much of the work involves finding the people affected, talking to them, making sure they have the benefits they’re entitled to from the government, and ensuring there’s structure to the work they do. One of the measures that can be taken is to ensure that homeworkers have pass books to record the volume of their piece work.

None of this would be possible if the community hadn’t absolutely embraced the project. Alongside seeking-out home workers, Manjari will continue working to bring standards up in a number of the current cobble yards to make them into ‘model yards’. With male and female toilets, maternity pay, adequate shade, fresh drinking water and, if possible, a creche, these will provide the template for other yards. Better facilities are likely to encourage home workers to want to work there.

“It feels like just the beginning; a drop in the ocean compared with the wider industry,” says Steve. “But the first five years are the hardest. Now with funding in place and all the people in place, we have a plan to increase the speed at which changes are made.” To find out more about the creation of the Budhpura Child-Free Labour Zone and how improvements have made an enormous difference across the community in the past six years, take a look at Celebrating Budhpura!

Continue Reading

Number Of Teachers Key To Tackling Creating Child Labour Free Zones

Number Of Teachers Key To Tackling Creating Child Labour Free Zones – London Stone Managing Director Steve Walley tells us about this important issue

Child labour is a complex issue but it is only when you start working on trying to address the issue that you begin to understand just how complex it is. In the UK and Europe, we take for granted how good our education system is. We expect that when our children attend school there will be teachers present to teach them. The situation is very different in Budhpura, India. Before we go any further, a re-cap about the project we are working on to create child labour free zones in Budhpura.

Budhpura is a rural village in the state of Rajasthan, India, and one of the main sourcing regions for Indian Sandstone.  More specifically, Budhpura is widely known as being the key sourcing region for Sandstone cobbles (setts) and due to the nature of cobble production this makes the whole region particularly vulnerable to child labour.

An exciting project has been underway in Budhpura since 2015.  A group of NGO’s and private businesses (The Stop Child Labour Campaign, ARAVALI, Manjari, ICN, Belgium Stone importer, Stoneasy and UK based landscape materials importer, London Stone) came together with a simple mission; to eradicate Child labour in Budhpura.

The project has made lots of progress.  In the last 3 years, hundreds of children have been taken out of child labour and enrolled into formal education.  There’s a long road ahead though, and the whole project team are under no illusions that after three years of hard work we are still only scratching the surface as to the extent of this problem.

One of the biggest issues the project and the community have faced is a severe lack of quality teachers.  Manjari are the local NGO working on the ground in Budhpura and one of their key roles is to talk to the community and cajole and convince parents to the benefits of getting their children to attend school.  It doesn’t matter how good a job Manjari do though, if when the children get to school there are no teachers present to teach them. The parents of the children will lose their incentive. It is a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario and given this climate it is easy to see why children then disappear between the cracks and slip into child labour.

The lack of quality teachers has been a huge barrier to progress for this project, so we are ecstatic to be able to share some amazing news with you.  After years of lobbying at different levels of local Indian Government we have finally secured a large influx of teachers to come and work at some of the local Budhpura schools. We’ve produced a simple table a comparison of teacher numbers from Spring to Autumn 2018.  The numbers have almost doubled, clearly demonstrating the fantastic progress we have made:

Name of School No of Teachers as of 10.04.2018 No of Teachers as of 10.10.2018 % Increase
1 Budhpura Choraha 04 08 100%
2 Bhilon ka Jhopda 01 02 100%
3 Dhorela 01 02 100%
4 Parana Gurjar 01 02 100%
5 Parana Karado 01 02 100%
6 Parana Ramdev 01 02 100%
7 Budhpura Gaon 04 07 75%
Overall Total 13 25 92%

Doubling the number of teachers in local schools is a massive achievement for the project and represents a huge step forward for the reliability and quality of education available in Budhpura.  It must have been extremely demoralising for Manjari to see all their efforts of lobbying the community go to waste because the schools could not provide the number of teachers required. This development can only strengthen Manajaris hand when talking to the parents of local children. This whole project is about breaking down barriers to progress and by doubling the number of teachers in Budhpura we have removed a huge barrier to children attending school.  Stay posted for further progress updates in due course.

Continue Reading