Ending child labour by speaking up
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 32 – the right to be protected from harmful work
Birgunj, Nepal – In Nepal, one in three children is engaged in child labour. Charan was not one of these children – but from an early age, he felt compelled to help those experiencing the practice and suffering from its harmful effects.
“I wanted to do something for the children who were working as labourers in my city of Birgunj,” 15-year-old Charan said. “I saw how vulnerable they were to exploitation and violence. To change that, I started by liaising with a municipality official who was also enthusiastic about working for children in our area.”
Rates of child labour in Nepal are more than three times the global average, and the majority of those children are engaged in hazardous occupations. Especially in population-dense urban centers, children throughout Nepal are forced to work in brick kilns, nightclubs and garment factories, or inside houses as domestic servants. This work pulls children out of school and often, into exploitative conditions, limiting their opportunities for future success. Many of these children – some of whom are as young as 5 or 6 years of age – work unimaginable hours for little to no pay.
This situation bothered Charan. He didn’t understand why girls and boys just like him were forced to live – and work – in such conditions. He learned about child rights by searching online and attending events in his neighbourhood. After realizing that children had rights, he dug into the facts deeper to better understand what children are entitled to. Through this research, Charan stumbled upon the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified human rights treaty. The CRC states that – among other things – all children, no matter where they live, have the right to be protected from harmful work. Though the CRC had been created 30 years ago, Charan saw that this right was still unrealized for many.
To end child labour in his community, Charan started a Child Club in Birgunj, Nepal. As the club’s president, Charan works with political leaders, families and children themselves to raise awareness of child labour and its harmful effects. He also works directly with those affected, at times pulling children out of exploitative work environments.
“My main motivation is to see the children we have supported living a good life after we intervene. It makes me very happy.”
One day, Charan witnessed an employer beating a child labourer. Charan tried to intervene, but the employer began getting aggressive with him. Charan filed a report with the police, and soon after, the authorities took action.
“There were quite a few hotels that hired children as labourers,” Charan said. “But following our repeated interventions, that practice has come to an end [in my community].”
His parents, teachers and peers have spurred Charan forward, spreading awareness of the club and its aims throughout the community.
“Advocating as part of a group is far more effective than working individually. When we go out in a mass, people tend to take our issues more seriously. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition for the club in this way.”
Pushing for children’s rights has made Charan a household name in his community. He is easily recognizable now, he said, and whenever there are issues related to child rights, people come to Charan for advice.
Since Charan started the club, its members have been able to control child labour in their ward, Charan said. Being the club's president has made him more assertive and more confident; over time, his skills in both interpersonal relations and communications have soared. Through his work, Charan has earned the respect not only of his peers but of adults and community leaders throughout his community.
Charan’s work for children is far from over. His dream is to become a lawyer, using his skillset and expertise to fight for children’s rights.
“If there are any children facing problems, I want to take on their cases,” Charan said.
The right to be protected from harmful work is one enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. In 1989, leaders from around the world came together to stand for children, agreeing through the CRC that girls and boys aren’t just adults-in-training – they are human beings with their own unique set of rights. Thirty years later, children like Charan are still aware of these rights, and are willing to fight until all children, in every community, achieve them.
“I think that if a child knows about his or her rights, they will recognize when they are being deprived of those rights and raise the issue with their employer,” Charan said. “If they face a problem there, we are here to back them up."