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Getting at-risk children out of work and into school in the slums of Moradabad, India

By Patricia Lone

UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’, was launched on 28 February, focusing attention on children in urban areas. One billion children live in urban areas, a number that is growing rapidly. Yet disparities within cities reveal that many lack access to schools, health care and sanitation, despite living alongside these services. This story is part of a series highlighting the needs of these children.

MORADABAD, India , 29 February 2012 – From ages 8 to 10, Anas spent 10 hours a day, six days a week, working in a smoke-filled metalware workshop in the slums of Moradabad.

UNICEF correspondent Patricia Lone reports on a programme that helps Indian child labourers return to school.


Moradabad is a bustling manufacturing city, attracting large numbers of unskilled workers who vie for low-paying jobs pulling rickshaws or driving small taxis.

Many find work in the city’s metalware industry, melting, casting, smoothing, polishing or welding brass, aluminium and iron. The final products are beautiful, but the conditions for workers – including many children – are not.

The ugly face of urban poverty

Urban life now dominates the globe. Over half the world’s people live in cities and towns , including more than a billion children . In India, nearly 370 million people live in urban areas . Of these, an estimated 97 million are living in poverty, according to 2009 data from the Government of India Planning Commission.

In Moradabad, workshops are crowded together with houses in congested slums. Soot, smoke and exhaust fumes fill the air, and open drains line the narrow alleys, leaving barely enough room to walk. There are no places for children to play.

This poverty drives children like Anas to work. In India, 42 per cent of people live on less than $1.25 a day , and 12 per cent of children between ages 5 and 14 are involved in labour. 

Anas was drawn into the dangerous metal trade out of concern for his family’s welfare. His father’s work as a rickshaw puller barely met the family’s needs, and his grandfather needed medicine they could not afford.

The work was perilous. Anas worked inches from a pit of molten metal, and a bad burn to his foot has left him with a permanent scar. And, critically, his time in the workshop kept him out of the classroom.

© UNICEF India/2012
Anas, 11, was drawn into the dangerous metal trade in Moradabad, India. His father was a rickshaw puller who was barely able to meet the family’s need

"The concentration of wealth in urban areas hides the ugly face of poverty,” said Adele Khudr, UNICEF Chief of Field Office in Uttar Pradesh . “Children of the urban poor are exposed to various forms of violence and exploitation. To protect them, we must ensure that they are in school, so that they can realize their full potential. The Right to Education Act, adopted by the Government of India in 2010 , provides the framework for this to happen."  

Now 11 years old, Anas is out of the workshop, in school and doing well, his life transformed by India’s Right to Education Act. A UNICEF-supported child rights project, funded by the Ikea Foundation , aims to make the Act a reality for thousands more children in 101 slums of Moradabad.

Thousands reached

Working through five implementing partners, the project systematically identified more than 14,000 girls and boys in the slums of Moradabad as being out of school.  Once the children were identified, vigorous outreach began, targeting communities and families as well as schools to ensure that the children were enrolled. The project also reached nearly 70,000 poor families and 55,000 children through a network of community groups. 

Groups of women and adolescents also began to meet regularly to discuss the ‘10-Point Agenda for Children,’ developed by UNICEF.  The Agenda addresses a host of issues central to children’s well-being, including not only child labour and primary education but also topics such as the importance of birth registration, immunization, safe delivery and breastfeeding, nutritional supplementation, hygiene and ending child marriage. 

Nagma is a spirited 15-year-old whose life has been transformed by the project. Two years ago, Nagma was working six hours a day sewing beads onto fabrics instead of learning. Like Anas, her earnings – less than a dollar a day – were needed to help her family scrape by.

Today, Nagma is an active and happy student, an inspiration to her brother and sisters, and a youth leader in her community. She participates actively in an adolescent group that meets regularly to discuss the 10-Point Agenda for Children.
One message she never tires of sharing with her community is that families should keep their children in school. It is good for the family as well as for the child, she says. “Educated children can support their parents better.”



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