Stories of Urban Children
13-year-old Jatin lives in Agra, India with his parents and siblings. Like many of the children living in the city, he has to work to support his family, a burden that no child should ever have to shoulder.
“My father became very ill, so I had to leave school to work and provide for my family,” says Jatin. “That was four years ago, and I am still working.”
Jatin and his father work in a shoe factory that was set up in a residential home. With heavy machinery and sharp tools everywhere, the environment is anything but safe, especially for a 13-year-old boy.
To help his family make ends meet, Jatin starts work, at a shoe factory, at 8am every day and is deprived of the opportunity to go to school.
“This is something he should never have had to do. I wish I could have provided him with an education and the childhood he deserves,” says Jatin’s father.
Every day, Jatin starts work at 8 in the morning and is usually home by six in the evening. “My father has returned to work at the factory and we earn 2,000 rupees (about HK$225) a week,” says Jatin. “My work involves cutting, stitching and gluing the leather pieces. My hands hurt because of the work and sometimes I even cut myself while using the scissors. Work is hard but there is no other option.”
“The manager scares me when he shouts and yells at me sometimes for not doing my work properly. There are days I don’t want to go to work, but then I know that if I don’t, we won’t have enough money for food and to continue paying the rent,” he continues. “I am happy that my younger brother and sister are at least going to school. I miss it sometimes. I miss my friends and also miss learning. When I first started working I used to think about school all the time, but now work keeps me busy, so I don’t miss it anymore.”
“I know I can’t return to school. Supporting my family is the most important thing now.”
Looking for a better life for their children, Jawahar and Vimlesh moved to Agra 25 years ago from their hometown Sultanpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, where Jawahar was a day labourer. He now works as a shoemaker, but work is not steady, and he has not had a regular job in three months.
Jawahar was 24 when he married Vimlesh, who was 14. “I was in eighth grade at the time, and I had to drop out of school. I didn’t understand what marriage was, and we fought a lot,” she says. “I have made a pact with myself that I won’t marry off my girls before they turn 20.”
Varsha (first from right), a participant of World Vision’s Smart Child programme, actively visits sponsored children in her community to ensure that they are in school.
For Varsha and her sister, Ashu, life follows a very different path from their mother’s. They focus on their studies – Varsha excels in art and maths. They take part in various extracurricular activities, including a children’s club where they learn about and advocate for children’s rights, as well as a child monitoring programme called Smart Child. This programme trains teenagers to help ensure sponsored children in the community are in school, look for signs of abuse and child labour, and establish trust among neighbours. Through the training, Varsha and other Smart Children, including her sister, have learnt how to interact with adults, develop leadership skills and had their confidence boosted.
“I used to stay close to my family,” says Varsha. “But now I have become more outgoing and have developed a sense of responsibility.” Vimlesh also noticed the change in her daughter. “She used to lack confidence, but now she is bolder. Her leadership qualities have been nurtured,” says Vimlesh. In fact, the same can be said of Vimlesh, herself. Ever since she became involved in changing her community, especially through a savings group where she was elected president, “I am more open-minded and feel more comfortable talking to people. Now I am able to say whatever I think,” she says. “When I was young, I used to cover my head and face. I wouldn’t make eye contact, I was shy and submissive, and I was embarrassed to go outside the house.”
“I sent my kids to school because I want them to learn at a young age,” continues Vimlesh. “Because I want things to be different for them. I will encourage them to study as long as they can. Education can give my children a brighter future.” She even works with World Vision staff to spread this message to other parents, encouraging them to also send their children to school.