Damodar Acharya is systematically eliminating child labor by strongly integrating child participation into the local political system. As the executive director of the Concerned for Working Children (CWC), Damodar is institutionalizing political representation of working children through social innovation and effective grassroots campaigns.
Inspired by his own life experience as a migrant worker, Damodar has been working with trade unions to enforce fair labor practices since the 1980’s. His organisation, the CWC, works with migrant children workers to establish basic childrens rights and give children the power to make change. First, Damodar organized the migrant child workers into children’s councils or makkala panchayats. Then he incorporated them into the formal local government. This political participation revealed the hardships child labourers suffer to not only formal authorities but also to the community at large and encouraged children and families to opt for education rather than work. Moreover, this initiative gets children engaged in civic issues early on so that they will be politically active throughout their lives.
From this work, Damodar recognized that decentralized government in India does not work as it should. The local government needed more power to enforce changes. So Damodar established the GCHA to ensure the Panchayats retain their power. Additionally, in order for the panchayats to function well, Damodar initiated a campaign for accountability - My Vote Is Not For Sale. The campaign underscores clean and fair elections by building the capacity of village residents to vote for officials that are equipped to govern. By reinforcing the idea that you cannot ‘buy’ votes, Damodar has helped bring more legitimacy to the Panchayats.
Today, the childrens councils are active in 56 Panchayats across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, engaging over 21,000 children. With the CWC, Damodar has trained over 1500 women in Panchayats on childrens rights and governance. Additionally, the CWC has expanded internationally to a position on the UN expert committee on children, and the governments of 190 countries such as Norway and Canada have adopted their guidelines. Their unique model of child participation has been lauded by many awards include 3 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Yet, many of CWC’s staff and volunteers maintain that their greatest success is in the childrens testimonials that highlight their sense of confidence and ownership of their lives.
Today, Damodar is initiating a school program, Namma Nalanda, that combines formal with non formal school for migrant children. He hopes the school will serve this neglected population and discourage distress migration. Meanwhile, the CWC has encountered a lot of success and is currently focusing on specific policy issues that affect children such as child marriage and everyday safety for girls. All these initiatives work towards Damodar’s vision for a sustainable world where children are respected and exercise their right to participate in government to establish a secular and non-discriminatory society.
*This Profile was updated in January 2014. Please read on for the election profile.