How a 22-Year-Old College Student Saved 111 Child Workers in India

India Travel
by Matt Hershberger Jun 21, 2016

WHEN I WAS 22, I WAS PUTTERING around my parents house, trying to put off getting a job. Jharna Joshi is doing much cooler things at 22 than I was. The 22-year-old college student from Ahmedabad in India was recently visiting a cousin in the Gujarati city of Morbi when she noticed that the kids passing her in busses did not seem to be heading to school.

Joshi followed the busses and found that the kids were being brought to a ceramics factory. Joshi applied for a job at the factory and used her new position to confirm her suspicions: many of the children were under the age of 14, and they were working in atrocious conditions. “Many were even made to work in high temperature areas like furnaces,” she said. “Even in such scorching summer, they were not even given cold water to drink.”

So she reported the factory to the Department of Child Welfare, which led to a raid that freed 111 children from appalling conditions. But it came at a cost: after the raid, she was threatened, and was eventually attacked. Two men who were riding on a motorbike confronted her as she went to give her statement at the police station: “They halted me by crossing my way and asked if I was Jharna the girl who rescued child laborers. Just as I said ‘yes,’ they attacked me.”

Joshi had to be hospitalized, but she is still being a badass about it: she says she knows of other factories that are using child labor as well. “I will continue to fight until the ceramic unit owners are behind bars. They used to make children work in such sub-human conditions.”

In India, it’s illegal for children under the age of 14 to work, but the law isn’t necessarily properly applied. The Times of India pointed out the uncomfortable truth about the case: “If a college girl can go undercover to expose child labour, what is stopping the concerned government agencies to show similar courage in cracking down on the units that are brazenly violating the law?”

While child labor is falling off in India (it dropped 64 percent in the decade between 2001 and 2011), it still remains far too prevalent for the 21st century (or the 20th, for that matter). India’s labor minister estimated in 2011 that there were approximately 4.5 million children under the age of 14 who were still child laborers. This is out of around 168 million globally.

People like Joshi are why this type of progress has been made. But it’ll take a lot more people like her to make sure that we get that 168 million down to where it should be: zero.

h/t: Global Citizen

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