Child Labour

India: Fighting Child Labour with Street Plays

Like every complex problem, the causes of child labour are many: social, economic, cultural, and political factors all play a role. But perhaps the best way to help people understand and do something about the plague of child labour is to reach out to them on their own terms, using stories taken from real life. In India, this unique approach is having remarkable results, and it is playing out on the streets of hundreds of villages.

Date issued: 28 September 2009 | Size/duration: 00:03:53 (13.4 MB)
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It is night in a remote village in India... but a bright circle of light illuminates the dusty street. For a few hours, the pain of poverty is replaced by the magic of performance. But it’s not only entertainment, the actors in the “street play” have a serious message for the audience.

Mahesh, Street Play Organizer

In 1996, I got hooked on street plays and decided to pursue it professionally. I put together a team of ten people and began organizing street plays myself.

Mahesh is a professional actor who has won many awards for his work on the stage. But the idea of raising awareness of the hazards of child labour by using street plays inspired him.


Usually, in a theatre performance, it’s only the actors who perform. But what is unique about the street plays is that the audience not only watches us perform, but people also get involved and begin to “act” along with us. It’s exhilarating and very exciting. The stories for the plays we are now performing have been given to us by the National Child Labour Project Society and the ILO. The scripts are complete, with dialogue and even summaries of the stories. I direct the plays myself and we rehearse for a few days before going out on tour, traveling from village to village performing the plays.

The first step is always the same: the actors march through the village, pounding drums and inviting everyone to come. It doesn’t take long before the march turns into a parade… and the word spreads quickly that something special is about to happen.

The next step is preparing the “stage” for the night’s performance. The actors sweep the street, clearing large stones and debris away from the performance space. As night begins to fall, a curious crowd gathers. Everything is ready for the street play to begin.

The story is about people and children from villages just like this one, who were victimized and exploited in hazardous work. The message is simple: keep your children in school, and take community action to prevent child labour.

With support from the ILO and an Italian funded project, more than 250 performers around India are now involved in putting on the street plays. Hundreds of plays are performed each year using a training manual designed especially for the performers. So far more than 200,000 people have seen and heard the message of the street plays.

Sanjiv Kumar, ILO National Project Coordinator

The themes are something that is taken from their life. And they can see it is real stories that are being depicted. It is not something that is in Bollywood films, etcetera. It is something very near to their heart. And they immediately understand that.

After it is all over, Mahesh always asks for feedback from the audience.

Man with cap

We thank you for having come and performed in our village. We have indeed learned valuable lessons from your plays.

Woman in blue

We are very happy that you came here with the show. We pledge to support your cause from now on. Thank you!


We are really happy with the way people reacted to our show tonight. They thanked us for having chosen their village for our performance. And they assured us that if we continued to spread the word like this, child labour can soon be eradicated.