History OF Bal Suraksha Abhiyan


History of BSA

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in India: Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey founded the missionary congregation of St. Joseph of Cluny in 1805 in France. Gradually, their work spread all over the world. Guided by the principles of service and ‘upholding human rights and a dignified life’ for all, the Cluny sisters first set foot in India at Puducherry in 1827. North East India and Nepal began their work in education, healthcare and pastoral development in 1861. Apart from running educational institutions, the order adopted villages in the remotest areas of the Kalimpong Sub-Division in Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India.

Around 2007, the Sisters found a helping hand in the Glenn Family Foundation which began its project in Asia and decided to support people living in the hill areas of Kalimpong. The BSA Child Labour Rehabilitation Centre - a spacious building equipped with facilities for the children rescued from child labour, was built in 2009 with funds donated by the foundation.

The Beginning: By 2005, the Cluny sisters were involved in various social initiatives in towns as well as remote areas in the hills. The direct engagement facilitated a growing realization of the need to start working in a rights based approach. The sisters strongly believed that no child should be deprived of basic rights to education and development simply because he / she could not access or did not have the resources to realize his / her dreams. Meanwhile, the growing number of the child labourers in the district of Darjeeling was a serious cause for concern. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny took the initiative to address the issue at the Provincial meeting held during the end of 2005. Focusing on the Kalimpong sub-division area, they began an awareness drive to rescue child labourers and enroll them in schools.

Conducting the Baseline Survey: For six months, BSA conducted a door-to-door survey in and around Kalimpong town and neighbouring villages with the help of community volunteers and officials of the municipality. Findings revealed that child labour was rampant. Two hundred and sixty one child labourers were identified in the municipality area of the subdivision, who were employed in hotels, garages, teashops, bakeries and households.The children were usually trafficked from neighbouring villages and tea estates from districts like Jalpaiguri and states like Assam, Bihar and other border areas by agents and sold to the employers. Several intermediaries were usually involved in this process of human trafficking. Forced to work for long hours for paltry sums, these children were denied the right to education, development, play and recreation and suffered various forms of abuse.

The Sisters began their rescue work through a process of persuasion and negotiation with the employers. They kept the children temporarily in the convents for shelter, education and rehabilitation until the residential centre was built. Those who did not want to stay were restored to their families.

Gaining Momentum: Bal Suraksha Abhiyan (Movement for Child Protection) Trust: A child protection movement and a vigorous campaign against child labour were now in motion. In November 2006, on the Bi-Centenary celebrations of the Congregation, the Bal Suraksha Abhiyan Trust (BSA) was formed.

This initiative coincided with The amendment in 2006 to the Child (Labour Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986. It reaffirmed child labour as a grave crime with punishment for offenders (in terms of fine and imprisonment). Armed with such laws, the Sisters began their work from 2006. Incidentally, when people started hiding children from BSA during the surveys, the team realized the need for awareness on child rights and laws protecting children and campaigns against child labour.

Soon, the Sisters realized that it was becoming difficult to sustain the good work. The children who were rescued and rehabilitated were being replaced by another group of vulnerable children. Violation of child rights was continuing. Thus, a period of action with punitive measures – identification of children with the help of anonymous volunteers and using decoy customers, raids with the help of police and labour department, drawing publicity of offenders; continuous meetings and penalizing offenders – followed. This was accompanied by building networks and conducting rigorous campaigns against child labour.

Each step was a learning experience. As BSA continued on its journey, increasing number of people joined the movement for the protection of child rights.