According to the International Labor Organization, around 84 million children worldwide are employed in fireworks production, one of the most hazardous forms of child labor. This extremely dangerous work involves packing highly explosive chemicals like sulfur and gunpowder into tight rolls of paper; this not only leaves toxic chemical residues on the skin, but also eventually causes long-term illnesses like tuberculosis or asthma, and even eye diseases. What’s worse is that the lack of supervision and poor or non-existent safety standards trigger factory fires that kill or maim these young children and other workers. Still, Guatemala is home to a profitable fireworks industry that employs poor children to work in its countless factories. Leading the pack in this global enterprise is China, which fulfills 90% of the world’s demand for fireworks.
One of the issues Vibha targets among its supported project partners is child labor. In India, fireworks factories are spread out across Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jaipur and Assam, and are reported to employ over 100,000 children. In 2013, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in India published a report that found children between the ages of 5-15 years to be employed and working over 12 hours a day at Sivakasi’s fireworks, matches, and incense-stick producing factories. Wages ranged at below Rs 50 a day. Conditions were unsafe, putting the children at a very high risk of physical harm and long-term psychological effects.
The perils of this labor and the unscrupulous nature of this Rs. 2000-crore-plus industry were brought to light in the wake of the disastrous accident in the town of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, India which claimed and maimed nearly 100 people. Similar accidents have occurred in successive years from 2011-2013 at fireworks units in Virudhunagar, Andhra Pradesh. Over the past decade alone, the casualty toll has tallied more than 200 lives.
It is not that child labor laws don’t exist in India. In 1996, the Supreme Court in India ordered the enforcement of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. India also has exhaustive norms that restrict how explosives are stored and handled. Sadly, the nightmarish enforcement in a system riddled with corruption and loopholes renders the implementation of these directives almost impossible, thus leaving this economically most vulnerable section of the population even more exposed to the perils of these unscrupulous profiteers. Child rights activists and organizations are working to bring change by creating public awareness and influencing government policy. However, the responsibility also lies upon each one of us to step back from promoting child labor.
We at Vibha are doing our part by partnering with Health Education Adoption Rehabilitation Development Society (HEARDS). HEARDS works to eradicate child labor in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. The main vision and mission of this project is to eradicate child labor in this district via education, equality and liberation from poverty. VIBHA, along with HEARDS and the National Child Labor Project Special School, with the support of the National Child Labor project of the Govt. of India, caters to the educational needs of 64 children between the ages of 5-14. As of August 2016, HEARDS had rescued 696 children from child labor and 281 vulnerable children from being taken into child labor.
But the strength of the masses - you - is needed to sustain this impact. In general, do not support any product that you know is a result of child labor. Limit your usage of fireworks and move to sustainable celebration methods. As this Diwali season ends, think of saving thousands of dreams; take a step forward to eradicating child labor.