Child Labor and The Girl Effect


Jayanti was only 8 years old when my brother-in-law discovered her.

She had been working as a live-in domestic servant for the people next door in their small town in West Bengal. It was clear by her appearance that she had not been treated well. She was exhausted, malnourished and unkempt.

For over 2 million women and girls in India, domestic work is fueled by economic necessity, and despite the efforts of NGOs like the National Domestic Workers Movement and laws prohibiting child labor, the respectable industry remains largely unregulated.

Would you like to come live with a nice family? he asked her.

She nodded, sobbing.

My husband remembers the day when Jayanti arrived at their home. His sister was given the task of bathing the child and brushing her hair. She was outfitted with new clothes and treated as one of the children. Her chores included providing cups of water when requested and helping their mother in the kitchen.

In exchange, his family provided needed remuneration to her birth family. She was sent to school and got married in her twenties at my father-in-law’s expense. She still lives close to their home and visits with her baby often.

I wonder, sometimes, where she would have ended up if my brother-in-law hadn’t intervened. An estimated 25% of domestic workers in India are under the age of 14, and many of them aren’t so fortunate.

Can you imagine the kind of financial desperation a mother would have to be in to send her young daughter to work for strangers?

I get a lump in my throat thinking about it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children the world over had the freedom to be children? To play and to learn and to figure out who they want to become?

It’s possible. 

The Girl Effect is the radical, hopeful idea that the most effective solution to global poverty is investing in the education and safety of girls like Jayanti in the developing world. Investing in a girl will sometimes mean microfinancing her mother or older sister in order to free her to go to school. An educated girl is far more likely to send her own daughters to school…

And so it goes. 

I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video below and share your thoughts. You are invited to post about the Girl Effect at your blog this week, read what others have written and add your link. We truly have more power than we think.


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6 Responses to Child Labor and The Girl Effect

  1. Clark & Gaile Warren says:

    Love this touching story with its happy ending for one lucky girl.
    May there be an ever increasing number of such stories!
    In the meantime, please caption your beautiful photo! Who’s who…

    • Rupa says:

      Thanks, you two! From left to right: The amazing Jayanti, whose banana-flower stir fry will make you swoon; Jayati Bou-di who is holding my nephew Gora; Yours truly; and Chobi, who works around their house a couple of days a week and told me she thought I was beautiful. :) Aren’t I lucky, too?

  2. Roxanne says:

    Children having the chance to be children… to play. It is so wonderful to hear someone emphasize the importance of play and joy. I heard Marianne Elliott (@zenpeacekeeper) talk about this in a recent interview of hers and it really rseonated. I feel like even those of us who grew up in environments radically different from those the Girl Effect videos portray could benefit from remembering to play and to celebrate our lives a little. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story….

    • Rupa says:

      You make a good point, Roxanne. I find that, for a balanced life, I need to play at every age! From a yogic perspective, joy is, after all, our inherent nature.

      Sometimes it might seem that we’re being frivolous, especially if we have pressing responsibilities. But like Marianne Elliott has emphasized, we can be of better service to the world when we take better care of our selves. Thank you for your encouraging words.

  3. Kelly says:

    It makes me so happy to know that people like your brother-in-law really do exist. I’ve always wondered if I’d ever have the chance to do anything so kind. And now, clicking through to this page: I see I can do plenty. $25 gets a sheep so a family can afford to keep their daughter in school another year!

    • Rupa says:

      Hooray! Thank you, Kelly, for providing precisely what this post needed: a practical “next step” to help. Easy and powerful! I’m so grateful. x

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