It began seven years ago with the severe floods in the Supaul District in Bihar. For months, families were unable to return to their villages. This emergency situation in the Supaul region was the start of Caritas Switzerland’s fight against child trafficking in Bihar. A survey established how many children were actually missing in the villages. With a view to the future, women’s groups were set up and special children’s centres were established, where especially girls could play, sing, learn to read and write, and where they could come to terms with the difficult time after the floods. The work in the centres has persuaded many parents that an education is important for the girls’ future. These easily accessible services are now being developed in all the villages in order to reach all children and to gradually enrol them in school. It is known from a study in the older villages how difficult the situation of the children and young people is. It showed the children’s, and particularly the girls’, vulnerability: Many girls were neglected, nearly one third of the children worked, and a large number of children in particular were missing. Almost 40 per cent of children did not go to school, because the schools did not function well and because many of them had to work.
It is essential to take measures against exploitative child labour, child marriages and child trafficking, and to increase awareness in the villages about children’s rights. The involvement of the villagers via families, networks and women’s groups in raising awareness is crucial. Village committees are set up to ensure the protection of the children, to deepen their knowledge about the exploitation of child labour and the mechanisms of child trafficking, and to know what they can do against it. The work in the ‘old villages’ was successful: In the last two years, none of the children in Supaul has disappeared, many working children were brought back and enrolled in school. Today, the population monitors the quality of the schools. This programme is now being expanded to the districts of Kathihar and Araria – and this will lead to greater influence being exerted on the municipal and district authorities and at the state level.
The Indian government has launched a programme for poor families, which guarantees households 90 days of income a year. It has adopted social programmes for widows, pregnant women, infants and school children and resolved to provide support – but these don’t reach the families unless the village population acts in an organised and assertive way. The goal of Caritas Switzerland’s partners is to turn these social programmes of the Indian government into reality, and thus to combat poverty – a central factor in child trafficking.
For the children, well-informed and watchful village communities, as well as active women’s and neighbourhood groups, are vital. Village committees and observation committees are given training, know the children’s basic rights and make sure that the teachers give lessons, that 90 per cent of children are enrolled by 2019, that the quality of teaching is improved and that the rights of children are respected. They are assisted by ‘barefoot lawyers’ in order to actively foster and deepen contacts with the village authorities, state bodies and law enforcement authorities and to put forward proposals and assert demands. Last but not least, they learn to hold the authorities to account, so that they act appropriately if the fundamental rights of children and young people are violated.