Smiley Bricks, anyone?


Symbols communicate concepts. They are a certifying proof. Implicit in them is an understanding and trust. The Green Dot says it is or vegetarian origin. The Red Cross with arms of equal size denotes protection and care. The sign says medical. Good Weave symbolises Child Labour-Free Weaving.

What about the Smiley?

We are all conversant with originally digital symbols. We use them with high frequency. Depending upon the smile or the frown, they communicate our emotions. These are SMILies, a creation attributed to Harvey Ross Ball, an American graphic artist. It is ‘a symbol that represents a smiling face, typically used to indicate the emotion’.

So what is a smiley doing on a brick?

It is smiling and telling a far bigger story. Engage with me for next few minutes to know all about it.

Brick-making is a semi-regularised business. It mostly employs migrant labours at very low wages. A team of three working through the day make approximately 1,500 bricks and are paid at the rate of Rs 350 per 1000 bricks

In Tamil Nadu, in the adjoining districts of Chennai, brick-making is big business. As you step out, you can brick kilns dotting the skyline. However, it is a seasonal business. Here job contractors sources migrant labour them villages and align them with specific brick kilns. The area that I visited near Chennai in Tamil Nadu had migrant labourers from Orissa.

In this case, it is the complete family that migrates. Women and children are also productive working and earning unit. The brick-owner is not worried or concerned about it.

The Aid-et-Action (AEA) project with migrant laborers in Brick Kiln chambers in Tamil Nadu is aimed at identifying all eligible children in the intervention zone and creates accessibility for education. To inculcate schoolgoing habit among children below five years, develops leadership qualities among children and encourages girl child education. Such projects educate and involve the community in the process of children’s education and ensure mainstreaming of eligible children in the formal education system once they return to their native places.

Aid-et-Action with its motto of ‘Changing The World Through Education’ has been working with the brick owners and migrant labourers. There were multiple problems to be solved.

  • Orienting migrant parents and brick kiln owners on child labour and education.
  • Setting up seasonal education centres at the work site.
  • Ensuring that children were taught in their mother tongue. So in Tamil Nadu, the migrant children from Orissa are taught in Oriya.
  • Coordination with the adjoining states’ governments for continueance of child education. For example, in this case- Migrant laborer state of origin state; Orissa and work site state;Tamil Nadu. Ensuring, education is recorded and accredited, so that the child can continue their education on returning to the native village / state.
  • AEA has been working with the brick owners and migrant labourers since many years. In 2016, it joined hands with S.V.R, V.B.C, R.V.K and S.E.B.I brick kiln chambers and introduced the SMILEY BRICK.

This brick is a normal brick that in addition to the brick kiln, branding also carries a smiley. The smiley here represents the smiling face of the young migrants. It connotes caring and safe environment. More importantly symbolises a ‘FREE FROM CHILD LABOUR’ status for the brick.


This is just a small beginning. AEA runs child education centres in about 12-15 brick kilns. As of now, only 5-7 chambers have adopted the SMILEY symbol. We want more and more owners to adapt the smiley brick concept. The concept has been introduced to Government officials.

The real success will come when house builders and owners start insisting on SMILEY BRICKS. When the symbol use is completely regularised and enforced. When at least to start with the nearby government bodies insist on Smiley Brick for their work. And finally when Brick Kilns are completely child labour free.

It is a beginning.

Disclosure: Sanjeev Kotnala is associated with Aide et Action as India Board Member.