UNICEF is committed to protecting every child from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination.
But given prevailing social, economic and cultural inequities in India, a large number of children, especially girls are forced to work in inhospitable, unsafe and exploitative conditions. Some of these children are members of families living in remote areas with few, if any, livelihood options. Others are part of units that are on the move – caught up in unrelenting cycles of migration in search of work.
Adolescent girls, most from disadvantaged communities and families, are trafficked for the purposes of early, forced marriages, for domestic labour (unpaid or poorly paid) and for commercial sex work. Yet other children live in single parent households where survival is at times a formidable struggle.Such children are often pushed into low-paid labour or commercial sex work either to escape abusive conditions at home or because poor or unemployed parents send them out in the hope of getting some extra money. Adolescent girls, most from disadvantaged communities and families, are trafficked for the purposes of early, forced marriages, for domestic labour (unpaid or poorly paid) and for commercial sex work. Roughly 27% of the country’s population is considered migrant and up to 77% of this proportion are women and children.
A large proportion of this migration occurs amongst families and communities that are socially and economically marginalised, adding to their already existing sense of vulnerability. Migrant populations more often than not suffer from greater risks of exploitation and tend to accept work on unfair terms.
Their children tend to suffer severe disruption to their education and often lose almost all access to basic services. Indian legislation offers protection to children in difficult circumstances but it is often hard to ensure its enforcement. In partnership with the government, UNICEF plays a key role in promoting an approach that focuses more on prevention rather than only relief and rehabilitation of children in need of special protection. One of its primary strategies consists of using education as a tool to tackle issues surrounding child labour.
In areas where child labour is particularly intensive, UNICEF helps to set up alternative learning centres in order to help make parents and communities see value in sending their children to school rather than to work.
It also works closely with the government in its National Child Labour Project that is currently being implemented across 13 states where child labour is endemic. Although trafficking is prevalent, issues related to it have not yet received sufficient policy attention.
For children who have been commercially sexually exploited or whose parents are engaged in commercial sex work, options for protection and development are scarce.
But UNICEF has been part of a critical breakthrough achieved in recent years that has helped to shift the general discourse surrounding trafficking - away from an almost exclusive focus on rescue – closer to prevention.