Skills training and financial empowerment: The antidote to child labour in India

The ILO’s MAP16 project adopted a Convergence Model to empower rescued child labour and their families, socially and economically.

Feature | Bihar, India | 29 May 2023
BIHAR, India: Aspirations are limitless in India’s aspirational districts. These districts, peppered across the length and breadth of India, were identified by the Indian government in 2018, with the aim of localizing the Sustainable Development Goals, leading to the nation’s holistic progress.

Vicky is a 15-year-old from Bihar’s Nawada district, one of the 112 aspirational districts which are being developed to catch up with the most prosperous districts and improve people’s ability to fully participate in the burgeoning economy. They are being developed across five broad socio-economic themes of Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development and Infrastructure. Enhanced access to government services is a crucial step towards achieving social justice for all, which is critical in eliminating child labour.

In 2016, as an 8-year-old, Vicky was taken to the southern Indian city of Hyderabad to work in a bangle factory with two other children from his neighbourhood. He worked 12-hour days, six days a week, in cramped conditions detrimental to his physical and mental health for a year before authorities rescued him and reunited him with his family.

Bihar has high seasonal migration. Inadequate safety nets, compounded by financial distress, oftentimes create conditions for families to push children into employment. The ILO India’s MAP16 project is being implemented in selected states, including Bihar, to accelerate action against child labour and forced labour by promoting a Convergence Model, to facilitate outreach among child labour families and link them with various governmental schemes, specifically focusing on skills training and economic empowerment.

When he was rescued from the factory, Vicky was enrolled in a Special Training Centre (STC), under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme of the central government, offering bridge courses for out-of-school children. Later he was enrolled in a formal school, but when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in school closures, he dropped out of formal education till 2022, which is when community mobilisers supported by the project approached Vicky and his family. The consistent dialogues, in collaboration with the District Administration, encouraged Vicky’s family to enrol him in school again in the ninth grade. The project also facilitated his sister’s enrolment in school and ensured adequate linkages with livelihood opportunities for other adult members of his family. Vicky is now determined to make something of his life.

Vicky is back in school with his friends.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in March 2020.

The Bihar Government launched the Child Labour Tracking System to identify and track rescued child labour, facilitating further response and care. The data maintained by the government of rescued child labour for the MAP16 project’s districts shows that more boys than girls were found in worksites outside of their homes.

A three-hour drive from Vicky is Nawab, who lives with his family in Jamui, another aspirational district. In 2018, his mother fell ill, pushing the family into economic distress. Being the eldest of four siblings, he helped his father, a tailor, by working in a garage to earn an extra income for a year. At the age of 13, his workdays were 12 hours long, with a short break given for lunch. He was identified and released from labour in 2019 and linked with an STC, but he did not continue studying there as he was not interested in schooling. However, he wanted to upgrade his skills.

Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS), an intervention by the Indian Government, provides vocational training to non-literates, neo-literates as well as school dropouts in rural regions by identifying skills that have a relevant market in that region. The JSS aims to economically uplift the rural population, catering to the most underserved areas by reaching the doorstep of beneficiaries with minimum infrastructure and resources.

In 2022, the ILO MAP 16 project collaborated with JSS, Jamui and Nawab was linked with the JSS, where he is currently undergoing training to become a motor mechanic for two-wheeler repair.

Nawab is undergoing training for two-wheeler repair
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in March 2020.

“Multidimensional poverty requires a multipronged strategy to combat it and to ensure that people don’t slip through the cracks. The ILO’s intervention, through a district-level programme, engaged officials of key departments such as labour, education and social welfare to facilitate awareness and last-mile linkage of vulnerable families with various government schemes. Additionally, skill training through collaborative efforts with the government’s Skill Development Mission paves the way ahead,” said/says Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director and OIC, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi

Through this intervention, the ILO further connected the JSS with the Workers’ Information and Support Centre (WISC), Jamui. The WISC is a trade union hub that provides information, counselling services and trainings for workers, especially the vulnerable and crisis-affected. With the support of community volunteers, the last-mile linkage of child labour families to access a “benefits package” of eight government schemes, namely education, health, rural housing, skill training, rural employment, financial and digital literacy, and supporting online registration of unorganized workers materialized.

The Second Joint ILO-UNICEF report, ‘More than a billion reasons: The urgent need to build universal social protection for children' reiterates the importance of social protection in providing resilience for households, boosting their productivity and earning potential, and lowering the risk of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Vicky’s and Nawab’s families now have access to the JSS centre for skill training and support services to access employment opportunities. Both the boys have more agency over their futures and what they want to make of them, now that their families are also getting holistically empowered, which is at the heart of social justice. This supports the ILO’s theme for World Day Against Child Labour for 2023, “Social Justice for All, End Child Labour”.

*The ILO’s ‘Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward’ found that the largest share of child labour takes place within families, and while the involvement of boys is higher than girls in child labour, when the definition of child labour expands to include household chores done for more than 21 hours in a week, the gender gap in prevalence among boys and girls aged 5 and 14 is reduced almost by half.