Our impact, their voices

Getting children out of labour and back to learning

The COVID-19 pandemic took millions of children, like Janny, out of school. The ILO helped them reconnect with their education, friends and future.

Feature | Jharkhand, India | 30 May 2022
JHARKHAND, India (ILO news) - Waking up at 6 am, running with your siblings to catch the bus seconds before it leaves and spending the whole day learning and playing with friends was the norm for children across the world.

Janny, a 13-year old from Jharkhand's Giridh.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in March 2020.

While technology allowed many adults to work remotely and children to study online the story was very different for those on the other side of the digital divide.

As schools closed in Jharkhand's Giridih district, 13-year-old Janny’s (name changed), education and dreams for the future were hit hard.

"I was very sad that my studies stopped and my dreams to study were shattered," says Janny.

India hosts a significant portion of the world’s mica reserves, which is widely used in products ranging from cosmetics, paints and electronics. Numerous families like Janny’s subsist on foraging mica scraps, which are abundant in states like Jharkhand, in addition to other income generating work. Yet, it yields poor dividends, and most families lead a hand-to-mouth existence. They were pushed further into crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed nearly all other income-generating work.

Janny’s father, Prabhakhar, had hoped his children could continue to study even during the lockdowns. However, there was simply no way the family could afford a smartphone for online classes.

Things took a turn for the better when Janny heard about a programme called ‘Balmanch’ which had been launched in a neighbouring village.

Janny with her siblings.
‘Balmanch’ or ‘children’s forum’ is supported by ILO’s Asia Regional Child Labour (ARC) Project which is funded by the UK government and implemented by the NGO Terres des hommes (Netherlands).

It aims to build an out-of-school community for children no longer in school by facilitating access to online lessons for small groups and providing study materials.

Janny and the other children of her village were excited to have a chance to learn again but worried their parents may not allow them to. To rally the parents behind Balmanch, Terres des hommes organized adults into Self Help Groups to help generate income through vegetable cultivation and improved goat rearing. This took the pressure off the children having to work to help make ends meet.

Janny and her friends, learning together in Balmanch.
The Balmanch initiative provided a fantastic opportunity for children to restart their education while also learning about their rights as individuals. The entire community now understands the importance of safeguarding children against the worst forms of labour.

Janny is now back where she belongs – in school.

Balmanch played a significant role in identifying 132 children (68 girls and 64 boys) potentially at the risk of not receiving formalized education and helped enroll them back in schools. Balmanch also continues to provide communities with other vital support on issues such as COVID-19 vaccination and prevention.

Janny says, "I am very thankful for Balmanch, as I could continue to play and learn with my friends even when our schools were closed". She dreams of becoming a teacher and educating other girls like her when she grows up and enters the world of work.

“In communities engaged in informal mica mining, it is poverty and lack of access to education that pushes children to work. Our work in Jharkhand is aimed at formalizing mining operations to achieve decent work for the adults while ensuring that the children, through Balmanch, are able to continue their education, despite the many challenges they face,” said Giovanni Soleded, Chief Technical Officer, Asia Regional Child Labour Programme.

Dreaming of a brighter future, to help other children like her.

For further information please contact:

Giovanni Soledad
Chief Technical Advisor
Asia Regional Child Labour Programme
Email: soledad@ilo.org