“I dream of seeing toys and books in children’s hands” – Ritu, Northern Zone

I complete two years with tdh very soon, a time rich with experiences and learnings.

I was born in Delhi and have spent four decades here, visiting pretty much every part of this vast city. Over the years, I’ve seen children begging outside temples, selling flowers and magazines at traffic signals, serving tea and food items and washing dishes at roadside hotels. I always wondered why there is so much poverty and helplessness around us. What is happening to the childhood of these children? Why do they need to work? Why do they not have books and toys in their hands? I felt driven to work on this issue, which took me into a life in the social development sector.

Over the past two years, during my visit to the brick kilns of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, I have seen children working in the toughest of conditions. Watching children transport bricks, and mix water with soil for raw bricks in the fierce heat of May-June, it is really hard to accept our country’s claim of rapid progress and development. These children are not counted in government child labour statistics, because their wages are paid to the family and not to them individually. When it comes to entitlements, the children are denied every right- education, health, safety and recreation. Last year, while visiting a kiln in Ajmer, Rajasthan, I discovered that two months earlier, a two-year-old child had been crushed under the wheels of a tractor. On another kiln, a four-year-old child had fallen into the furnace. I had goose bumps hearing this. It came home powerfully to me that these children are nobody’s priority- not the government, the labor department, the brick kiln owners or indeed society’s. With the kilns situated at a distance from villages, the children were largely invisible, with schools and health workers not wanting to take responsibility for them. They spend their entire childhood migrating from one state to another, from one district to another. As adults, in the absence of any other livelihood, they enter an identical life on the kilns to that of their parents and families.

Last year, India completed 25 years of ratification of UNCRC. The government rededicated itself to providing every child in our country their rights. While a lot of work has been done in this area, there is still a long way to go. Existing government schemes and assurances require commitment to implement them. Government and the society must work together honestly, or problems will persist.

This issue is really close to my heart. I dream of a day when every child will have a book in her hands, when every child will have a toy in his hands.