Catholic Relief Services

Bihar is one of the least developed and poorest states in India, with 35% of the population below the poverty line.  West Champaran is Bihar’s largest district.  Here people mainly survive off of rain-fed rice farming during the monsoon season and daily wage labor. Over 64% of the population is below the poverty line and the literacy rate is only 56%.  Due to limited income options and poor quality of education, migration is a common practice, particularly for boys ages 8-14.  These boys travel to locations hundreds of kilometers away (Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka) to work in brick kilns, construction, textile factories, and other industries.  They send home an average of $65 per month and face serious threats to their security and wellbeing.

Three root causes perpetuate child migration: community norms that children should be working if not in school; poor quality public education plagued by teacher absenteeism and student punishment; and extreme poverty, with many households earning only $700-800 per year. Over the past decade, the Government of India has enacted a series of laws and policies to protect children’s rights and to improve the quality of education. However, ground implementation and enforcement has been weak.

In collaboration with the Bettiah Diocesan Social Service Society (BDSSS) and The Goat Trust, CRS works directly with 100 families across five villages in Bagaha-II block.  Another 100 families from surrounding villages benefit indirectly through a hub and spoke approach.  Strategic objectives include:

  • Key community actors support families to protect boys ages 6-14 from migrating to work
  • Parents of more vulnerable boys are sending them to school regularly
  • Households practice improved agrarian techniques to increase on-farm productivity and income

Ramu and his family are regulars at events on child protection held in the village.  Ramu rents and share-crops 1.5 acres, growing paddy, wheat, potatoes, vegetables and sugarcane.  He received water to irrigate his fields from a bore well sunk by the project and keeps goats to supplement his income.  Veterinary services offered by project-trained Pashu Sakhis have reduced goat mortality and expenses, making it a stable source of income. Ramu’s wife now receiving a government disability pension to help meet daily expenses.  Their daughter (12) and son (15) are enrolled in school and attend peer group meetings regularly.