Sunil’s Story: From Child Laborer to Champion

Sunil Kumar was born in the tiny village of Khap on the India-Nepal border. His parents were landless laborers with no resources to raise him and his siblings. Seeking a chance at a better life, Sunil ran away from home to Mumbai, the city where dreams could become a reality.

Instead, he found something much closer to a nightmare—the hopeful migrant was put to work alongside hundreds of other poor children in an embroidery sweatshop. Forced to work up to 20 hours a day in cramped, dimly lit rooms, their only payment was food to keep them alive.

In 2006, when Pratham facilitated large-scale state rescue operations, Sunil was one of the fortunate ones to be freed. He was then enrolled in Pratham’s Gyanshala program, which provides education and other support to those rescued from child labor.

After their basic foundational skills are established, the children attend a nearby government school while continuing to live with fellow Gyanshala students. They are also exposed to music and sports. It was here that Sunil began to excel at kabaddi, a sport in which players must cross to the other team’s half, touch an opponent and escape back to their own side—all on a single breath.

Today, Sunil is a confident, capable young man. He is among the 35% of students to have passed the grade 12 exam, scoring in the 65th percentile. He has also won many medals representing Bihar on the kabaddi court, where, as in life, he has been to the other side and made it back safely. He can now exhale.