Radio show in small Indian town gives rare voice to child workers

Balloon seller Nisha, 9, said purple was her favorite color, as she spoke into the microphone on a radio show in India, dedicated to highlighting the voices of child workers.

Nisha was among a group of children working and living on the streets of Gorakhpur, an impoverished town where child labor is prevalent.  On winter afternoons, the children would recite poems, sing or talk about their day.

“I am told you give away balloons for free to some children,” disc jockey (DJ) Jyoti Singh asked Nisha on radio channel Loudspeaker that was set up last year by an anti-trafficking charity to focus on children’s issues. 

“Yes, I do that when I see them cry,” said Nisha, rocking on a swivel chair as she took part in a newly-launched hour-long weekly show featuring child workers.

The International Labour Organization estimates there are about 10 million workers between the ages of 5 and 14 in India and about 150 million child laborers globally.

Indian law bans the employment of anyone aged under 15, but children can “support” family businesses after school hours.

Campaigners said this compromise for family businesses has enabled employers to hire children to work in brick kilns, bangle and garment units, and shoe factories. Others work on the streets and at train stations selling balloons, water, or tea.

Street children are the most visible form of child labor, according to campaigners. However, they are often not given as much attention by authorities as those working in brick kilns or factories.

“Children on the streets are child workers, but they are not victims of trafficking who have been separated from their families,” said Vishwa Vaibhav Sharma, founder of Safe Society that launched the Loudspeaker radio channel last year.


The charity launched the weekly radio show four months ago. The show aims to give children a medium to express themselves and educate the town about child labor laws.

The government has instructed police officials in Gorakhpur to check all forms of child abuse, officers said.

Mithai Lal Gupta, a member of Gorakhpur’s Child Welfare Committee, said putting child street workers into shelters is not the solution. Many children started to work again once out of the shelters.

“We have a shelter, but it is not an ideal arrangement for children working on the streets. What do we have to offer them?” said Gupta.

Safe Society employs teachers to encourage parents to allow their children to study, which Sharma said showed great results.

Among the dozen children who walked into the radio studio with Nisha, more than half had quit working.

Singh said the radio show on Loudspeaker focuses on the children, not their work. Local newspapers report on children working as domestic servants, meaning there is not enough awareness about child workers.

“Some sell balloons, some work as maids. Others work at tea stalls. But we don’t emphasize on their work. They do not have a creative outlet like other children do,” DJ Singh said.

“We make them sing and dance, make them radio jockeys for the day. Their stories come out in bits and pieces.”


By Roli Srivastava

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