Like any other young boy his age, 16-year-old Dharmender (name changed) loves playing cricket and hanging out with his friends. He also attends school and is in class 10. However, three years ago, he was going through something that no child should ever have to experience.
Breaking vicious cycle to save children from trafficking
UNICEF with support from IKEA is helping Government of Bihar to rescue thousands of trafficked children, like Dharmendra.
A man lured Dharmender into leaving his home in a village in Gaya district in Bihar and going away to a city, on the pretext that he would not only be able to continue his studies there but would also earn money in exchange for some ‘light work’.
Unsuspecting and, in fact, relieved that better days were here, his parents handed their son into the hands of the trafficker who then forced him into working in a bangle-making factory. It was nothing like what I had imagined,” Dharmender narrates the dark phase of his life.
Instead of a life of opportunity, he was thrown into a tiny room “with no window” and with 20 other boys with barely any space to breathe, let alone live in. The boys in the bangle-making factory, all victims of trafficking, were made to work for 15-16 hours every day.
“If anyone complained, he was beaten up,” Dharmender recalled. Their day would begin at 6 a.m. “with water thrown on our faces” and not end until midnight.
Trafficking of children and forcing them into child labour is a serious issue in Bihar. According to the 2011 census, 6.5 million children in the age group of 5-14 work in the unorganized sector, and among them, 11 per cent are from Bihar. In villages like the one where Dharmender grew up, opportunities are scarce, and everyone lives in poverty.
Both Dharmender and Lokesh were rescued in a joint rescue operation by the police of Telangana and the labour department in 2015.
To understand the situation in which the child was led into being trafficked for labour or otherwise, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) first counsels the rescued child. “We ask them the reason why they left home, where did they go, were their parents aware? If the child says that the parents sent him because of poverty, we counsel the parents too," says the Gopal Meena, State’s Labour Commissioner,
After verification of the child’s family, the CWC makes an entitlements card that includes all the government schemes that he or she can benefit from.
This initiative addresses needs like housing and work, thereby directly addressing the reason why the child left home in the first place – poverty. “Thus the child is rehabilitated in the true sense, such that he does not go back into the loop of forced labour,” said the director of the Social Welfare department, Raj Kumar.
Another crucial intervention is the development of a unique software programme with the help of UNICEF and supported by the IKEA Foundation, called the Child Labour Tracking Software (CLTS).
The CLTS has updated data of rescued children, their details like parents’ name, address, the school they are enrolled in, their socio-economic status, etc. which helps us keep track of them,” he said.
Back at home, Dharmendra revealed their own system of keeping track of children in their village. “All the children in our village are members of a youth group.
If someone misses a meeting we immediately find out where he is, and get in touch with his parents,” he said, adding, “We don’t want others to fall into the trap as I or some other children in my village did.”