So far 350 shopkeepers have declared their shops ‘child labour free’ by putting up stickers

Delhi’s bustling Central Market in Lajpat Nagar is today home to a revolution. Happening without any fanfare or Press announcements, shop owners here are engaged in creating a positive change in the lives of children by saying no to child labour, giving to the children working here the right and time to educate themselves and work for a better future.

Working along with the Delhi Police, two non government-organisations -- Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA) and Save the Children (with financial assistance from a private company Aviva) -- have now managed to pull out over 90 children out of forced labour in Lajpat Nagar and induct them into schools as part of the “Street to School Programme”.

“As many as 350 shopkeepers in the market till now have declared their shops ‘child labour free’ and announced their decision by putting up stickers on their shop supporting the cause. They encourage children working with them to come to the centre that provides them education, counselling and recreational opportunities. We also try and integrate these children into the main stream schools,” said Rilakynti Kharwanlang of ‘Sapno Ki Duniya’, a centre run for the children at Lajpat Nagar.

This positive change at the market did not come easy. “It is the hard work of two years which is finally starting to bear results now. Children living on the streets are often employed as child labour because they are cheap and will work long hours without complaining. They also have no idea about their rights and rarely have any strong support system to stand up for them. Like all markets in the Capital, Lajpat Nagar too has a sizeable number of child population working here. Exposed to hazards at work these children either come here with their parents or are simply living on the streets of the markets,” said Sanjay Gupta of non-government organisation CHETNA.

The main objective of the project is to ensure all-round education of children by providing them with life skills education, counselling and academic education and to sensitise and bring change to the attitudes of parents and society towards working children.

“The going hasn’t been easy here. There are some shopkeepers who don’t want to let go of this cheap labour and the parents of these children too don’t take kindly to the reduced income. For the past two years we have been working at sensitising the parents and encouraging the children to come to the centre. The target group is children between 6-14 years and these include children engaged in rag picking, begging, selling small items (toys, balloons etc), shoe polishing, cleaning, loading and unloading,” said Ms. Kharwanlang.

“I like coming to the centre because I get clean food, I learn to read and I can even go to main school one day,” said Nasir one of the children who are benefitting from the project.

Meanwhile, extending his support to the project Lajpat Nagar shopkeepers association head V. K. Gupta said: “It’s a good initiative and we support the efforts being made to help the children here. There is a lot more work that needs to be done before the market is completely child labour free but we have taken the first step in the right direction already.”

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