Caritas India promoting “Safe Childhood- Surokhit Shaishnav” in West Bengal

Caritas India(CI) in association with Caritas Germany organized a one day West Bengal Partners Meet on 28th Nov, 2019 to promote “Safe Childhood – Surokhit Shaishnav”.  West Bengal has seven per cent of India’s total child population and children represent 35 per cent of the state’s total population. The state is home to 32 million children, of whom 73 per cent (23 million) live in rural areas and 27 per cent (8.7 million) live in urban areas.(Census 2011). Although West Bengal features at the seventh spot in the top 10 States with high rates of child labor, there is a shocking 337 per cent increase in the number of marginal girl children (aged 5-9 years) in urban areas out of 5,50,092 children (53 per cent increase in child labour’, The Hindu, Kolkata, June 26, 2015).  Thus, this meet was organized in order to discuss and strategize the action plan to create a safe childhood across West Bengal to combat child labor and increase in cases of violence against children. This meeting was attended by several CI West Bengal Partners, CACL (Campaign Against Child Labor – WB Chapter) and members of Caritas Germany.

Executive Director of Caritas India, Fr. Paul Moonjely emphasized on how important it is to work jointly to eliminate child labor across West Bengal so that all children have a safe childhood. He added, “The issue of child labor must be combatted with a multipronged approach ensuring that all the major four pillars of Child Rights of UNCRC (United Nations Convention on Rights of The Child); Right to Survival, Right to Development, Right to Protection and Right to Participation are addressed during intervention. Only through this umbrella intervention we would be able to provide a strong safety net for children and create sustainable solutions on elimination of Child Labor. We all must remember that Children are not meant to earn but learn. Hence, childhood is the time to go to school and attain education rather than engaging into any form of labor”.

The partners shared their success stories and strategies of eliminating Child labor. They emphasized on how they have been able to fight the menace of Child Labour across Tea gardens of North Bengal and have successfully been able to declare few Child Labor free Tea gardens. Many partners shared about the process of Children’s Clubs formation in the villages which helped them to empower children and enhanced their participation. However, the Partners also shared several facts that brings forth the dismal situation of Child Labour in West Bengal. Ironically, only 2 Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) are functional across 21 Districts of West Bengal which is against the government mandate of setting CWCs in each district. They also shared that children are mostly involved in Bidi Making or brick kilns. Further, they added that the children working in brick kilns are not official dropouts from school rather they are seasonal dropouts. This is because they migrate to brick kilns for one half of the year and go to school in the other half. In between, they go back to their school during exams to avoid loss of academic year. As a result, their names continue to be reflected in the school’s enrollment data; thus creating a cadre of hidden child labor that remains away from the official data of school drop outs or child labor.

Mr.Peter , Desk Officer- International Development from Caritas Germany emphasised on very important reflections that the issue of Child Labour has multitude of challenges which requires a joint effort by all the CI partners to come together and work towards the elimination of child labour. He added, “India has exemplary laws for children in place, what is required is effective implementation of the laws related to children at all levels. We must work towards strengthening and activating the existing structures that are meant for child protection across West Bengal. It is also necessary to expand the good practices across all the areas for the benefit and empowerment of children. If NGOs and Government work together, then I see immense possibilities in our journey to combat child labour and create safe childhood for all children across West Bengal.”
The partners devised some key action plans at micro, mezzo and macro levels such as strengthening VLCPCs (Village Child Protection Committees), liaisoning with key stakeholders to establish CWCs etc. to address issues of child protection and create safe childhood across West Bengal. Mr.Rajesh Upadhyay, HOD-Programmes of Caritas India suggested to prepare a concrete action plan for creating macro level interventions in the State of West Bengal involving Govt. Stakeholders as well as relevant CSOs.  He emphasised that this is just the beginning. We all shall collectively work together to create effective Child Protection and Development systems to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse against underprivileged children and adolescents by promotion of their rights through interaction of state and non-state actors at all levels, in the state of West Bengal.