Child labor exists because we allow it: Anupama Ramaswamy of dentsu Impact


Every year India celebrates Children’s Day on 14th November, to promote togetherness, awareness among children, and to improve children’s welfare. Yet, to this day countless children are robbed their basic rights, education, dignity, hope, and most of all, a childhood.

At present, millions of children are employed as laborers across India at homes, factories, construction sites, and elsewhere. Commonly referred to as ‘Chotu’, each child often deal with a menial, backbreaking or dangerous job.

To showcase this tragedy, dentsu Impact has created an eye-opening film, more like an ode for My Choices Foundation. The narrative showcases various versions of Chotus, taking you through a shocking-startling journey through the hellish world that has these hapless chotus in its never-relenting grip. The film truly communicates their silent tribulations and sufferings.

To know what went into the making of this film, which has struck a deeply emotional chord with people. Pavan R Chawla caught up with Anupama Ramaswamy -Managing Partner and National Creative Director – dentsu Impact, who spoke about the film and told us how each one of us can help such unfortunate children escape this cruel existence, and help improve #Chotukachildhood.

What was the brief for #Chotukachildhood?

My Choices Foundation wanted the world realise that there are too many children who still do not enjoy full rights and free choices. The problem is we all feel sad when we see a child working for a living, but unfortunately, nobody reports such instances. The numbers of Child Labour in India are astonishing. They wanted to bring to notice the violence, abuse, and exploitation these children go through.

What are some facts, figures that shocked you when you were working on this campaign?

India has the largest number of children working in the world. According to data from Census 2011, the number of child laborers in India is close to 60 million, out of which only 10.1 million is officially documented. 5.6 million are boys and 4.5 million are girls. Another alarming number is that 7.8 million Indian children are forced to earn a livelihood even as they go to school. Child trafficking is also linked to child labor.

Trafficked children face all forms of abuse-physical, mental, sexual, and emotional, being subjected to prostitution, forced into marriage, being illegally adopted, and even being exposed to infections such as HIV.

Children are often viewed as providing cheap or unpaid labor, and this leads them to become house servants or beggars, and even being recruited into armed gangs. In India, Uttar Pradesh is home to the largest number of child laborers over 6 lakh children.

How did the idea of this campaign germinate. And what is the creative process that goes behind making a film like this?

Seeing little children working to make ends meet is the worst form of pain. But we walk away, without reporting it. I believe that child labor exists because we allow it to exist. It exists because people accept it and make excuses for it. There are no excuses for it. All forms of child labor are unacceptable.

Because there is a global demand for cheaply produced goods means that suppliers have to find the cheapest labor force possible. And often this means children are forced to work. Some years back while going to work, I had once seen a kid waiting for his school bus in the morning.

Only later did I realize, he was just holding the school bag of another child and once the bus came, he handed the bag to the other boy and waved him goodbye. It was the saddest thing ever. It has been haunting me ever since.

What was the stated objective of this flim?

The problem in our country is because of Child Protection laws, organizations cannot ask people to click pictures or geo-tag the location. So the only way is to urge people not to walk away. Not just empathize and feel pity, but to report it. Every one of us needs to report such instances.

In the last few days, a lot of eminent people have shared this film. The message is definitely being noticed. We cannot change the entire society, but even if a few people start reporting, I would like to believe our efforts are paying off.

What is the kind of traction this film has achieved so far?

Without any promotion whatsoever, we have seen it getting traction. It has also been shared by various celebrities.

The campaign portrays the harsh reality of thousands of unfortunate children. What are some ways in which we can help such children get their childhood back?

Any child out of school is a child laborer. Remember to report such cases. There are many organizations and helplines available. Please do not click pictures and upload as you may put the child in jeopardy.

A lot of people feel intensely about a cause when they see a well-done piece of communication but soon after, forget about it how can we change this behavior?

To effect real change, the message needs to be pushed continuously. With enough encouragement, a word of mouth chain-reaction will ensure enough conversations start taking place. We cannot afford to become complacent, otherwise, the purpose will be defeated.

Any anecdotes from when you and your team were working on this campaign that you’d like to share with our readers?

Not many people know that the director of the film, Shashanka Chaturvedi, aka BOB, also shot the film. We had put the old Hindi film songs as a placeholder, but SAREGAMA was kind enough to let them use them for this cause. The film was shot in real locations of Delhi to give it an authentic feel.

 Anything else that you would want to share?

Every single situation you see in the film is inspired by real life. Nothing is staged or unreal, and the idea was to show it as is. Not sugar-coated, not over the top, nor exaggerated. Real–hard- to-watch-truth. So the whole process was done in a realistic manner.

The director took a long time to figure out the actual places we would shoot, the faces we would show, and how we would shoot it all. While keeping it as real as can be.

The client also believed that the concept has merit and is extremely real. My Choices Foundation tailors programs to empower rescued children, so they can make choices to live their lives free from violence, abuse, and exploitation.

They aim to see the transformation of India into a safe place for children and hope this film will help them do that. We believed that the contrast of using an occasion that celebrates children to highlight their suffering will make the bitter truth come into the light more strongly.

Your thoughts, please