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India: “We want books not bricks”

Smoke rising from the brick kilns in West Bengal

I’m in West Bengal, a major brick producing state.

Around 160,000 migrant children work in the hundreds of unregulated, hazardous brick kilns here, with 4,000 more children arriving every year.

We arrived at a brick kiln in Chowhata – a couple of hours north of Kolkata – in the heat of the day, smoke rising from the huge chimneys.

How to bake a brick

Each family has a patch to work. Children carry huge slabs of mud to be moulded into bricks and left to dry in the scorching sun.

Dried bricks are carried to the kiln eight at a time, balanced on heads, weighing roughly 3kg each. The baked bricks then have to be carried again to be stacked.

We saw children crouching down in the midday sun moulding these bricks. They work 12 hours a day, making roughly 1,000 bricks for just £3.

As workers are paid by brick, the whole family works. A family of four are given a shelter roughly 5ft x 5ft to live in – this is where they cook, eat and sleep.

Bridging the gap

Children outside Save the Children's Bridge Course Centre

While we were being shown the day-to-day existence of children working in the brick kilns, we could hear young chatter and laughing from a nearby building.

This building is the Save the Children Bridge Course Centre – bridging the gap so that children working in the brick kiln can get a proper education.

The difference it’s making is clear, and it was fantastic to see children smiling regardless of the conditions they were living in.

One of the activities the children had done was to make posters about life in the brick kilns. One poster read “We want to carry books not bricks.”

Children with meals supplemented by the government

An education

Save the Children is educating parents on how they will be more productive if they don’t have to watch out for their children working in these horrendous conditions.

We’re also educating the local government on the conditions in the brick kilns, and they are now providing supplementary food for the children, such as ‘hotch potch’ or dahl, rice and soya beans with half a boiled egg.

We met with the local government and discussed the next step for Save the Children and our local partner – advocating for toilets and a water supply at the brick kilns.

Thank you to RB Pharmaceuticals for supporting this vital work.


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