A young boy washes utensils in Ranchi in this undated photograph while 12-year-old crusader Divya Sharma poses for a snap with her mother in front of their house in Sopodera, 7km from Jamshedpur, in March
Children washing tea glasses, wiping machine parts with rags, mopping up tables and so on are things we see all the time.
But shops at Sopodera, under Madhya Sarjamda panchayat in East Singhbhum, 7km from Jamshedpur, don’t employ child labourers.
As June 12, celebrated as World Day Against Child Labour, approaches, those who are responsible for stopping shopkeepers from employing children are school students of the area.
A group of Unicef child reporters, led by Divya Sharma (12), a Class VIII student of Madhya Vidyalaya, Sopodera, have worked hard for the past six months to make their locality free of child labourers.
The task of opposing a social curse, especially when families of most child workers desperately need their earnings, wasn’t easy for children. But the cub reporters, who learnt about child rights in the programme and why child labour and minor marriage were social evils, decided to go beyond the classroom and do something about it.
“When we were told about our rights, we felt it was a crime making children work so hard for petty sums. We really felt poor children have the same right to education. So, we went to shops and spoke with the owners. We requested shopkeeper uncles not to employ children and told them it was illegal. Initially we were shooed off. But with persistence, they listened to us,” said Divya, who was the leader in the group.
“Humnein bola bal mazdoori bandh kariye ya police mein report likhwa denge. (We told shopkeepers stop child labour or we will report you to the police),” said Upendra Sulakhi, another student in the team.
The children even went to the panchayat mukhiya Prakash Kumar Sandil to share what they were doing.
“He (the mukhiya) co-operated with us, told us what we were doing was good,” said Divya.
But the spunky girl added she was also scared. “Initially, shopkeepers were very angry with us. They thought we were meddling needlessly. Our school and village panchayat backed us and told us to go on with our fight for right,” she said.
“When the children approached me, I assured them what they were doing was right. I told them the panchayat is behind them. Half a dozen shopkeepers had also complained to me against what they called the nuisance that the children frequently created in their shops, but I told them the students had our support,” Sandil said.
He added that he had asked para-teachers to be on the lookout for any incidents of child labour.
Tarun Kumar of NGO Adarsh Seva Sansthan, which is implementing the Unicef programme in Sopodera, said: “The way these children took matters in their own hands was very brave and effective.”
Now, student scribes have formed a team to monitor shops.
“This campaign is not a one-day job. Shopkeepers may exploit children again. We have to be vigilant,” Divya smiled.