One of the hardest things to do is break the truth to a child about how the world isn’t as rosy as they are told it is. These words often come from loved ones, parents, family and friends, but when it comes to harsh realities that these very individuals would never wish upon children, they risk raising them in an environment of ignorance. In matters like this, it is up to total strangers to do the needful, often at the expense of seeming purely informative and emotionally removed from the equation.
In an attempt akin to the above, members of the Intern team, here at CRY West, set off to Phoenix Marketcity Kurla, a major shopping centre in east Mumbai to engage with visitors through a few interesting interactions on the occasion of World Against Child Labour Day.
The Books or Bricks interaction entailed visitors to paint a brick as one of their favourite books; a sign of solidarity towards dissuading children from spending their childhoods with bricks and instead encouraging them to dabble in books. The Empty Classroom installation was a remark on the present day situation of classroom facilities being provided to all, but full of empty seats as a result of children involved in labour.
The shoppers who stopped by were taken aback by how serious the numbers are; 10.13 million children under the age of 14 and 22 million between the ages of 15 to 18, a total of 33 million children in India. However, they were equally as enthusiastic about demonstrating their solidarity towards the causes that CRY works towards.
During the day’s events, we heard a voice asking us about the event and we were surprised to turn and see a pretty young child. He couldn’t have been older than ten, but one could hear the curiosity oozing off of every syllable when he asked again, “What are these silhouettes for?”
While we instantly switched to narrator mode, the facts, what CRY does, why we were prompted to make the installation, it was quite the wait as we kept looking for the interest to fade in his eyes like it did several adults before him. But it didn’t. He kept nodding like a broken bobblehead doll and seemed so interested that we were worried we’d fumble and give him wrong information. When we finished, he looked a little sad, given how sombre the event and the issue were. When we asked him what he thought about working like adults do, he told us his parents made him work too.
This was particularly alarming as it was the time of day when school just let out, further adding to our concerns. As part of our know-how, we attempted to make conversation with the child and discern whether or not it was a matter that needed to be brought to attention. The sudden interest being paid to him must’ve excited him because he started getting riled up about how his parents made him wash dishes. We paused for a second, before one of us finally asked the golden question, “Is this at home?” He nodded furiously like he did before, adding, “They don’t even let me rest after I’ve eaten.” A huge wave of relief washed over us as we burst into laughter, the boy joining along clearly not knowing why.
So as we set him off along his way, towards his apologetic aunt, we were again reminded of how precious a child was. If this one child felt unjust by having to contribute towards daily chores, the burden that others feel when having nowhere to turn during financial crises must be crippling. Children should never be forced into a real life simulation of adult responsibilities and this can only be realised through a collective sense of being and support throughout the community. In light of this, it was commendable how Phoenix Marketcity lent its aid toward this and CRY hopes to make this a part of its tradition and progress towards its goal, happy, healthy and creative children whose rights are protected and honoured in a society that is built on respect for dignity, justice and equity for all.
CRY Volunteers, Mumbai