Puran Banjara, India
Puran Banjara, 13, is from Village-Salmania, Post-Baroda, Dist-Shyopur, Madhya Pradesh, India. He has 6 brothers and 1 sister. Neither Puran’s mother nor his father can read or write.
Puran started working with his parents in the stone quarries of Haryana and Rajasthan when he was only 6 years old. He broke stones and loaded them into trucks, and dug pits for underground cable along the road, 11 hours a day (from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.), 7 days a week for 3 years. More than half the day, he worked on an empty stomach because he had no breakfast. He only had one 15-minute break for lunch at 1:00 p.m. The working conditions were very unhygienic and harsh. Puran still bears a scar on his knee from breaking stones without protective gear.
Puran’s father Devi Ram was indebted to the owner of the stone quarry for an amount of Rs. 20,000 for the treatment of Puran’ ailing grandfather. Even after sever years of hard labour, Devi Ram and his family were not allowed to leave the stone quarries as the owner was claiming Rs. 45,000 with interest on the capital. However, Devi Ram and the family were never paid their wages except a lump sum amount of approximately Rs. 1000 for the work of 5 working members. Thus, ensuring that the family could never write off the debt and continued to remain in bondage for ever.
As part of an on-going campaign to identify and rescue bonded children, one day, activists from the Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center run by Bachpan Bachao Andolan found Puran and his brothers working in stone quarries. On pursuing the case of Puran and younger brother and realizing the indebted and harsh conditions of labour, the activists were able to convince Devi Ram to consent to let Puran and his brothers to leads a free life and get education at the Bal Ashram. Due to the loss of labour from Puran and his younger brothers, the employer filed a case against Devi Ram on false charges and sent him to jail. Eventually BBA activists helped in his acquittal.
Puran now lives with other children who have also been victims of child labor and are receiving educational and vocational training at the Bal Ashram in Viratnagar, District-Jaipur (Rajasthan). At the Ashram, Puran learned slogans, educational songs and street plays. He is part of the cultural team that performs folk theatre to generate awareness of social issues, including child labor. He participates in demonstrations and marches to highlight prevailing social problems in the local area, and helps organize rallies to enroll out-of-school children in school and design campaigns to boycott fireworks and other products manufactured using child labor.
Puran plays and active role in the implementation of Bal Mitra Gram (child- friendly villages) near the Ashram. When he return to his own village, Puran will try to make it a child-friendly village, which aims to eliminate child labor and enroll all children in school through active community participation and the establishment of a children’s parliament.
Puran believes that he can accomplish whatever he wants to do. For now, he wants to concentrate on his studies. He recently completed final exams for 8th grade. Eventually, he would like to attain a higher education and join the army. He wants to become "an army man."
Puran thinks that the best way to help him and other child laborers to achieve their dreams is to make friends with them and convince them to go to school. Education is most important for children. "Every child should have access to free, compulsory, quality and meaningful education," he says. "It is essential for children to go to schools."
Mohhamad Samsur, India
Mohhamad Samsur, 13, is from Kachhi Basti, Manoharpura, Jagatpura, Jaipur (Rajasthan). He has four brothers, who are 4, 9, 10 and 15 years old. Samsur’s father runs a tea stall and sells garbage collected by rag pickers. His father has completed 8th grade and can read. Samsur’s mother is illiterate. She is a domestic worker and helps her husband sort out the garbage to sell.
Samsur started working with his friends as a rag (garbage) picker when he was ten years old because his parents and all his neighbors and friends were rag pickers. He collected garbage from McDonalds, Pepsi factory, and Milk Processing Units in Malviyanagar, Jaipur, three hours a day (from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.), seven days a week for a year. He still has a scar on his foot from stepping on a piece of broken glass while collecting garbage. Samsur also attended school for four hours a day (from noon until 4 p.m.). During his work as a rag-picker, Samsur was addicted to gutka (tobacco) and sometimes used to smoke cigarettes.
He has completed only one year of schooling, later he dropped out of school so that he could continue rag-picking throughout the day.
One day Samsur’s father met an activist from Bachpan Bachao Andolan (the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude). The meeting was an eye-opener for his father, who realized his responsibility to work and to send Samsur to school. Without wasting anytime, he sent Samsur to the Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center run by Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
Now, Samsur lives at the Bal Ashram in Viratnagar, Jaipur District (Rajasthan) with other children who have been withdrawn from work and are receiving educational and vocational training. Samsur is improving his reading and writing skills so that he can be reintegrated into formal school when he returns home.
Samsur is busy fighting illiteracy, child labor, dowry, corruption, child marriage, etc. He participates in the implementation of Bal Mitra Gram (Child Friendly Villages). He interacts with villagers and children in nearby villages to advocate for a child-friendly society, which aims to eliminate child labor and enroll all children in school through establishing children’s parliaments. Samsur also participates in demonstrations, rallies and marches to highlight prevalent local social problems, enroll children in school, and boycott fireworks and other products that are manufactured using child labor.
Samsur now has hope of a future that is not full of exploitation. He wants to go to university and become a good painter. He sees himself making beautiful paintings. He also wants to help other children like him and work to improve their lives. Education should be ensured so that all the children can go to school, Samsur says, and adults should be provided with employment. He knows that if children work then they do not have time to play, they are exploited by their employers, they do not receive adequate wages, and they do not have a chance to develop physically and socially to their full potential. "The best way to help child laborers is to make friends with them and persuade them to go to school. Schooling is the most important for children," he says.