In less developed countries who are still fighting social battles, unions are an important part of society. Even though I understand the need for unions in developing countries like India, I was not entirely comfortable when I heard that the cobble traders of Budhpura had formed a union to support our project to create Child Labour Free Zones (CLFZ).
It felt fishy. A group of cobble traders whose norm was child labour coming together to help eradicate something that had supported their family’s standard of living for generations.
That’s where we were 2 years ago, when the cobbles Traders Union began to play a role, a role that’s now looking very decisive, in our project to create child labour free zones in Budhpura. I can vividly recall being sat under a veranda in a small cobble yard with the CLFZ project team, a handful of Indian stone exporters and the Budhpura cobble traders union. It was an awkward and uncomfortable meeting and not just because of the plastic chairs we were perched on. Looking back, it was new ground for everyone and at that time, nobody was really sure who was friend or foe.
Sanjay stands out in his classroom: not just because he is one of the tallest children, but also because he is very motivated. Not so long ago, his life was completely different: Sanjay worked in the stone quarry from when he was 9 years old until he was 12. He made cobblestones for the European market. Until his employer decided, one year ago, that it was enough.
“He told me that I could no longer work for him. We went to school together and he enrolled me,” says Sanjay.
Ever since 2013, the local NGO Majari has been working to convince the entire community that children should be at school and not at work. “It is really great that even employers are taking their responsibility now,” says Bajrang, a very proactive member of Manjari. Sanjay is doing his very best to catch up at school with all the years he missed out on.
What would he like to be when he grows up? “A teacher!” he beams.
“Every child should be in school’ This is the fundamental principle of Child Labour Free Zones. To achieve this goal though, a holistic approach is required that looks at the bigger picture as to why children in Budhpura end up working in cobble yards. That’s why the Manjari team also supports young adults to achieve vocational training. This helps them to earn a decent income, so that their younger brothers and sisters can focus on their education.
Netu and Hamleta are 19 years old and both dropped out of school many years ago. They are no longer of a school going age, but they are part of a Manjari skill building/training programme to teach young women stitching skills.
Walking through the CLFZ project in Patiyal Hamlet of Budhpura , there is a good chance that you will come across a local boy called Shankar. You will not only see him in real life, but also on the posters and leaflets throughout the village. As the first child to attend school in his neighbourhood 11 year old Shankar has become the brand ambassador for the CLFZ project. Many others have since been motivated and inspired to follow his lead. Even though he is only 11 years old, Shankar already has a clear goal in life. He wants to become a teacher!
Anyone who has travelled to India for work or pleasure will be aware of the complex set of challenges the country faces as it strives to drag itself into the modern world, India is developing at break neck speed. Unsurprisingly though in the country that boasts the world’s largest population, it’s not all progress…….some people are getting left behind. Some of the workers in stone supply chains are testament to this, especially in remote quarry areas and villages like Budhpura. The communities in these areas face many challenges and in a country the size of India they are often overlooked and forgotten by the government…..left to their own devices. Many, of what we consider to be, fundamental rights are not available to these people, or if they are available they are difficult to obtain. Health care, education and employment opportunities are limited and basic community institutions are often lacking.