|At UNICEF headquarters in New York (left to right): UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, former child labourer Samsur Mohamad, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and former child labourer Puran Banjara and Global March Against Child Labour Chair Kailash Satyarthi.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 2 May 2006 – Two former child labourers from India met and shared their life stories with UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah during a tour to help raise awareness about the plight of children in servitude worldwide. The boys – Puran Banjara, 14, and his friend Samsur Mohamad, 13 – came to the United States last week as part of a visit coordinated by the Global March Against Child Labour.
“I was breaking stones with my brother,” said Puran. “When my grandfather died, my parents had no other choice but to borrow money. We became debt-bonded. The owner used to make me work the whole day, forcibly. I didn’t feel like working. I never saw any books during my childhood. Both of my parents are illiterate.”
Samsur added that his family had illegally emigrated to India from Bangladesh and were thus deprived of any legal identity or status. “I used to collect garbage with my two brothers,” he said. “We used go through the garbage fields to look for glass, plastic and other recyclable materials. We collected about 10 rupees for each bag containing a kilo of this material.”
|Former child labourers Samsur Mohamad, 13 (left), and Puran Banjara, 14, at UNICEF headquarters in New York during a tour to raise awareness about child slavery.|
Meetings in Washington, D.C.
Puran and Samsur were luckier than many of their peers. Both were rescued from their lot and given a chance to get an education with help from the Global March, a worldwide network that seeks to protect and promote child rights – especially the rights to receive a free quality education and to be free from economic exploitation.
During their US visit, Puran and Samsur travelled to Washington, D.C. and New York with other former child labourers. In Washington, the children met with members of the House of Representatives and Senators, including Senator Hillary Clinton. They also met with American schoolchildren.
“We met with Mr. Clinton’s wife,” Samsur explained excitedly. “We gave them the same message, that there are many children like me in the world, working as bondage labourers, so the developed countries should look at helping these kids to get a proper education.”
Message to the world
UNICEF has been working with the Global March in a worldwide task force on child labour that aims to develop programmes addressing the well-being and educational needs of exploited children.
An estimated 246 million young people worldwide are engaged in child labour. UNICEF believes that the worst forms of child labour (as defined by International Labour Organization conventions) damage children’s health, threaten their education and lead to further exploitation and abuse.
As Ms. Veneman and Ms. Salah listened carefully to Puran and Samsur last week, they heard the boys’ message to the world. “All children should get an education,” Puran said firmly. “If all children don’t get a proper education, they will remain poor people, resulting in more children being used as child labourers.”
1 May 2006:
Samsur Mohamad, 13, and Puran Banjara, 14, talk about their experiences as child labourers and their wishes to put an end to the practice.