Rajasthan’s Tara, others shine bright at ILO conference on child labour

Three children from Rajasthan, including a first-generation learner from a nomadic community and two former child labourers, made the country proud by representing India in the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour.

The event is being organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the government of South Africa in Durban from May 15-20.

“Does being poor mean that we will be forced to work as child labourers? Every child has an equal right to education and it is the responsibility of every individual to prevent multiple forms of child exploitation,” said Tara Banjara, while addressing the conference.

Tara belongs to the Banjara community in Rajasthan. Till the age of eight, she worked as a helper in a road construction unit.

But defying all odds, she became the first child from her community to pass the matriculation exam and pursue senior secondary education. Now she is enrolled in college and hopes to become a police officer.

Tara has been raising awareness in her community against child labour, child trafficking and child marriage. She had prevented her younger sister’s marriage and convinced her family to send her to school. Thanks to her efforts, more than 22 children from the nomadic communities are in school now. At present, there is no case of child labour or child marriage in her community.

Tara is supported by Bal Mitra Gram (BMG), an initiative of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation.

“Although governments across the globe spend billions on war, pertinent issues such as health and education of children are placed on the backburner. To benefit from the child-friendly laws and regulations, more efforts are required in their implementation. I hope that governments across the globe prioritise the voice of the children,” said Amar Lal, the second speaker, in his address.

Lal also belongs to the Banjara community in Rajasthan. To support his family, Lal started working in a stone quarry along with his father when he was just six years old.

During a raid at the stone quarry, he was rescued by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), a sister organisation of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, and was brought to the Bal Ashram.

Bal Ashram was co-founded by Nobel peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and his wife Sumedha Kailash in 1998 as a model rehabilitation centre for children rescued from child labour, child slavery and child trafficking.

After completing his senior secondary education, Lal pursued legal studies. Currently, he is working as a child rights lawyer and activist.

“I have come here to talk about scores of children who are languishing in forced labour and still await a safe and healthy childhood. Together, we can eradicate child labour,” said Rajesh Jatav from Rajasthan while addressing the ILO conference.

Education for Rajesh was a distant dream as he had to work for 18 hours a day at a brick kiln in Jaipur. Rescued at the age of eight, Rajesh then attended school at the Bal Ashram. In 2020, he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Electronics from Delhi University and is currently pursuing an MBA in finance from the Udaipur University.

Another participant in the conference was Badaku Marandi from Jharkhand.

A resident of Kanichihar village in Giridih district, his father passed away when he was five. He along with his mother Rajina Kisku then started working in the mica mine to eke out a living.

In 2012, the mine he was working at collapsed during heavy rain, and he was rescued from the debris by the local people. Two persons, including Badku’s friend, had died in the accident. Badaku’s eye was infected by an injury sustained in the accident, and later he lost his vision in one eye.

Though he survived the accident and loss of vision, Badaku was shattered by the death of his friend.

In 2013, the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation selected Kanichihar village as a Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) or child-friendly village. Badku was enrolled in school the same year and became the first individual from his village to pass the matriculation exam. He was also elected the head of the bal panchayat and now works as an active member of BMG.

More than 4,000 delegates are participating in the event scheduled from May 15 to May 20. According to UN estimates, 160 million children — around 1 in every 10 children globally — are working as child labourers.

The event is being organised at a critical time when there are only three years left to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eliminating child labour.

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