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Fighting child labour in cotton mills

© Vidya Kulkarni/UNICEF/2006
Former child labourer Mohammad Hasan at his home in Bhiwandi, Mumbai

By Vidya Kulkarni

Mohammad Hasan, a lean and tall teenager from a slum in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, sports a cheery smile. He exudes a mix of confidence and exuberance suitable to his age. His cheerful demeanor in no way hints any of the hardships that he has survived in his short life.

This 15-year-old was forced to work in a power-loom at a very tender age. In the process he missed out on a carefree childhood and schooling.

Nearly two decades ago, extreme poverty had led Mohammad’s family to migrate to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh. Mohammad’s father could not earn enough to feed the family of six.

To make ends meet Mohammad took up work in the power-loom though he was paid little. “Initially, I would cry when I saw children going to school. Later I started accepting the reality of my life,” he recounts.

But just when he began to accept his fate he came in contact with a project supported by UNICEF. Today, Mohammad is a proud student of the education and vocational training classes run by UNICEF’s partner organisation, SETU Charitable Trust.

He has learnt the basics of mathematics and languages and is training to be a wireman - a higher-paying job. “The skills will give me better prospects in work and in life,” he says.

Mohammad has become more responsible towards the educational needs of his siblings. “I regret having missed school in order to work. I will not let my younger brothers face the similar fate. I will make sure that they get proper education,” he says.

There are many more children like Mohammad, who were able to overcome childhood exploitation and deprivation due to efforts of UNICEF-supported SETU, which is an non-government organisation based in Bhiwandi slum on the outskirts of Mumbai.

“It is hard to remove these children from their work instantly and enroll them in school. It is necessary to be strategic as well as pragmatic in tackling the needs of these children and that of their families,” said UNICEF’s Programme Officer Vijaylakshmi Arora.

“Constant advocacy with the different stakeholders including the local government, power-loom owners and others who are key influencers for the community is required to fight the malice of child labour here,” she adds.

The project in Bhiwandi has formulated special initiatives for out-of-school children who are more that 14-years-old.  TheThe aim is to provide vocational inputs to these children in order to upgrade their skills.y are equipped to take up diverse jobs ranging from plumbing, wire work, wood work and others.

“We equally emphasise on educational inputs along with vocational skills to compensate for school education that these children have missed out,” said Vijaylakshmi.

The project is also consistently reaching women and adolescent girls and enabling them to find innovative ways to address key social issues, such as promoting early school enrollment and prevention of early marriages.



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