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For 14-year-old Ashraf, school doesn’t end with the stroke of the last bell. Rather, the next few hours proceed ‘comically’, as he vigorously starts working on comics to sensitise people on child labour.

Ashraf, who lives in the Shivnagar slum here, is one of the 160-odd members of a young brigade that is striving to tackle child labour in Moradabad’s metalware industry that is highly labour-intensive, mostly in the form of traditionally household-based production involving all family members.

And they do it in a unique way – through handmade comics that they sit and prepare in their classrooms. They also stage street plays to project the miseries of child labour.

“The social menace can’t be fought without convincing the parents who themselves make their children work,” said Ashraf.

The credit for empowering Ashraf and other children to spearhead a drive against child labour goes to NGO Ankur Yuva Chetna Shivir (AYCS), which works in association with Unicef for child rights here.

“Like Ashraf, there are around 160 children in the age group of 10-14 years who are assisting us in fighting the social evil in 11 localities of Moradabad,” Bhuwal Singh, an AYCS project officer, told.

Moradabad, famous as the brass city of India, produces around 80 percent of India’s metalware exports.

“The drive against child labour cannot be undertaken efficiently without reaching and involving child labourers in the discussions. And comics help us do the same,” Ashraf, who was once himself a child labourer, told.

“Though initially the child labourers may not understand the significance of our work, the handwritten comics serve as a medium to attract them. Comics assist us in mingling with the child labourers, who otherwise don’t like interacting with outsiders,” added Ashraf.

Bhuwal Singh said: “Comics are a medium of free expression using art and simple sketching and day-to-day language. Children use them to express their concerns regarding secure life and non-discrimination.”

“Besides preparing the comics, the 11 groups of children also stage street plays to project the miseries of child labour and sensitise the people, particularly the uneducated ones, about the social menace. Moreover, paintings made by the children also serve as a potent medium to drive the message home,” he added.

The groups involved in the drive against the social evil include a mixed strength of normal students, former “working children” and those who were once child labourers but have now joined mainstream society and go to schools.

The basic difference between child labourers and working children involves the money aspect. Unlike child labourers who are paid for their work, working children are those who are made to work by their own families without any wages.

According to a survey conducted in 2009, there are over 9,000 “working children” and child labourers here, said Anshuman Kaul, a data support officer with Unicef.

“The idea behind forming such groups was for a better understanding of problems faced by child labourers. Former child labourers are also in the group and provide us several valuable inputs which help us in the execution of our project,” said Bhuwal Singh.

“For instance, such members in the group are aware of their locality and help us in reaching child labourers and their families,” he added.

Counselling sessions are also held for child labourers. The groups have even got several of them admitted to schools.

“Normally, on every Saturday we undertake a door-to-door visit to convince parents not to deploy their children in producing metalware but send them to school,” said Bhuwal Singh.

“It’s not easy to convince the parents. I remember on several occasions the children of the groups were just shooed away by the parents when they approached them as a part of the drive,” he noted.

“With the sincere efforts of children’s groups, around 160 child labourers have been admitted to different schools since January 2010 when the groups started functioning,” Bhuwal Singh added.

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