Serving as the family breadwinner is a role fraught with pressure. Yet children the world over are enlisted to help their families make ends meet. The experience has been especially hard for 12 year-old Anika.
Anika’s family, 8 altogether, live in the slums and pick trash to get by. Three meals a day for the family is a distant dream—often there is barely enough for one meal. The family has battled abject poverty for two generations. Anika’s grandparents borrowed money to build their hut. Non-payment pushed the interest higher and higher and eventually it fell upon Anika’s parents. The debt collectors threatened to take their hut. As the eldest child, Anika was forced to drop out of school and take on menial jobs. Sometime back Anika was enlisted as a housemaid. She washes dozens of utensils and clothes, and scrubs floors every day. For Anika, life is an endless struggle and battle against hopelessness. She says the work makes her feel inferior, small, and worthless.
The statistics on child labor are startling. In India millions are forced into dangerous, often exploitive work. Other countries in the developing world tell a similar story:
- One in six children 5 to 14 years old — about 16 percent of all children in this age group — is involved in child labor in developing countries.
- In the least developed countries, 30 percent of all children are engaged in child labor.
- Worldwide, 126 million children work in hazardous conditions, often enduring beatings, humiliation and sexual violence by their employers.
- An estimated 1.2 million children — both boys and girls — are trafficked each year into exploitative work in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict or commercial sex work. (www.compassion.com/child-advocacy/find-your-voice/quick-facts/child-labor-quick-facts.htm).
These days hope is on the rise for Anika. She spends three evenings a week at the Happy Club, a J127 outreach that leads children to Jesus, then imparts child-centered whole life discipleship. The Club is led by a Christian couple from a local church: The children call these individuals “Aunty Suneethi” and “Uncle Skshay.” They provide a safe space for children like Anika to heal, grow, and thrive in very difficult life circumstances. The program teaches spiritual formation, character development, and life skills (everything from hand-washing to spotting traffickers).
When Anika first started attending her eyes spoke volumes. She would come and sit quietly in the corner. She did not share or talk. She did not participate in any of the Club activities. No one saw her laugh. And no one knew why her body was tired, and her mind distracted.
Her silence worried the Club leaders. They tried to engage her, but she did not open up. They persisted, however, and over time she began to share her story. Anika said that she loved school and did well until she was forced to become a housemaid. Her dream of getting an education and good job seemed unlikely. Aunty Suneethi and Uncle Skshay could not imagine the burden this young girl daily carried. They prayed with her through tears, and asked God to reveal His plan for her and her family. They helped Anika realize that she is a special child in the eyes of God. And they spent extra time explaining Bible stories where heroes of the faith faced insurmountable hardship and persevered through faith in God. Anika began to participate in the Club in small ways, including playing games, acting in skits, and reading the Bible aloud in a group. She eagerly anticipates Club time, and shows up early after exhausting days of cleaning homes. Anika’s J127 Club serves as a major source of hope.
Life may never be easy for children such as Anika – certainly laws need to change and provisions need to be made for families. However, J127 Club kids will be equipped to weather storms, live with joy, share Jesus, and disciple others in the faith. And best of all, they’ll rely on a Father who will never leave or forsake them and who promises eternity.
Update: In 2018, David C Cook transferred oversight of the J127 clubs to an in-country partner which continues to shepherd and grow this program. By supporting David C Cook’s Life on Life curriculum, you will be helping support this program as well.