The three year programme is supported and funded by IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative); ETP members, Tesco, OTG (Meßmer), Tata Global Beverages (Tetley, Tata Tea), and Taylors of Harrogate (Yorkshire Tea); and Typhoo.
It will initially work with 350 communities across 100 estates in the Indian state of Assam.
UNICEF says child protection issues in India are a ’huge challenge,’ with exploitation and abuse of children exacerbated by poverty, gender, caste, and a lack of education. These problems are common in Assam’s tea growing areas.
Knowledge, education and life-skills for children
The partnership will bring together stakeholders in the tea industry - including public and private organisations and the supply chain – to tackle child exploitation across the sector.
It wants to tackle the root causes of social problems by equipping children with knowledge and life skills; training community members to protect youngsters; promoting children’s rights; and working with district governments to improve education and child protection policies.
Anuradha Chandler, senior programme specialist, UNICEF UK, told BeverageDaily.com UNICEF officials will give children the chance to come together to learn life-skills, with groups for adolescent girls being one example.
“It’s about being able to talk to elders, to be able to start dreaming, and to say how do I get there,” she said.
“In that process, it’s also realising your rights along with your dreams. I have a right to have my first child at 20, not 18. I have a right to not do all the household work, and to ask my mother for equal amounts of food as my brother is given.”
Improving opportunities for tens of thousands of children
In India, more than 80m children a year (41% of the child population) leave school without completing eight years of education. 43% of girls are married before they reach 18.
Assam is one of the world’s most important tea growing areas whose leaves are used in almost every tea blend. A sixth of the state’s population live in these communities and are among its most marginalised people, UNICEF says.
Children in these communities face a number of issues, especially girls. Many leave school early and child marriage is common. They are vulnerable to a range of threats including trafficking, exploitative and bonded labour, and physical and sexual abuse.
The project says a difference can be made by empowering young people and strengthening child protection systems.
UNICEF already has child protection officers on the ground in Assam. They will use existing structures such as village organisations, mothers’ clubs, and tea estate welfare officers to promote child protection.
“We’ve chosen a medium-sized pilot, of 350 communities, and 25,000 children. It will not go unnoticed, and it is a model that can quite easily be upscaled,” said Chandler.
“It’s very exciting. The headline is we want to systematically prevent issues of child protection coming up. We don’t want to douse the fire later on, we want to ensure there is prevention to start with.
“This is a long journey, what is really nice is it’s begun with the right intention to get to the root causes. This commitment should be lauded.”