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Cotton creates dropouts in Vidarbha

Child Labour, Right to Education

It is the beginning of June and 14-year-old Somirao Kavdu Madavi from Yavatmal’s Madhavpur village is getting ready with his bags. But he is not going to school. A Standard 4 dropout, he is set to leave for a cotton farm where he works all year around. His family gets Rs. 25,000 for his 12 months of work. The amount, he states, is difficult for his family to let go.

As agriculture is not specifically disallowed for children under 14 under the Child Labour (Prevention and Regulation) Act 1986, farmers across Maharashtra employ children: sometimes as full-time labourers like Somirao, otherwise as daily labourers as and when they need them.

Activists say it leads to children missing out on education altogether. Vidarbha is a glaring example of this.
Somirao is not the only one in his tribal village of Kolam Adivasis who has had to drop out of school to help support his family. His work includes everything — from sowing to spraying pesticide to cotton picking. “I had just come home for a three-day holiday,” he said.
He struggled to recollect when he had dropped out of school. “I studied till Standard 4,” he said, which would mean till the age of 9. For the last five years, he had been working.

“We have no other source of income. I am probably earning more than anyone in my family. What can my parents do when there is poverty to face?” His parents, who do not own any piece of land, work as farm labourers in nearby villages.
“While the amount of children working in agriculture, and thus losing access to education is more in Yavatmal, there is largely a societal ‘sanction’ for using children for farm work all over Vidarbha,” says Suresh Bolenwar, a farmer-activist with the Vidarbha Jan Anolan Samiti (VJAS).

Yavatmal is one of the worst-affected districts of the agrarian crisis, he adds. “Rs 25,000 is more than what the parents would earn through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, if it is implemented fully. It is difficult to pull the children out when the needs of the family are concerned.”

In the nearby Hiwra village, 13-year-old Gajanan Uike tells a tale similar to Somirao’s. He works in a farm for Rs. 25,000 which, he states, is the ‘going rate’ this year. He has studied till Standard 3, till the age of eight, and dropped out later to “support the family.”

But not everybody is lucky to get jobs that guarantee to pat for the whole year, says Gajanan’s 15-year-old friend Ajay Meshram. He works as farm labour whenever there is a demand. He has studied till the Standard 7.
“I get Rs. 100 a day. I also work in my own farm. If I find someone who will keep me on their farm for the whole year, I will go. Now, I barely earn Rs. 1,500 a month. You will call it child labour, but at least we get steady income,” he stated.

Asked if they would have liked to continue studying, both Ajay and Gajanan said they now wished they were pushed to study more. “But what is the guarantee? People who have studied more than us have no jobs,” Ajay adds, as an after-thought.
Girls too are part of the many children in the region dropping out of school at an early age. Vrinda Atram, Surekha Rampure and Parvati Tekam of Ambezari village have said they are enrolled in ashramshalas meant for tribal children, but their attendance is irregular as they have to travel to different villages to find work. The day this correspondent met them, they were waiting at a bus stop, with food and clothes to last them for a week, in search of work.
“Someone told us we could find work in the chilli fields here, but everyone has finished picking chilli. Now we have to wait till we find something else,” says 13-year-old Surekha. She and Vrinda have dropped out after Standard 6, while Parvati is still studying in Standard 9. “The school does not care if we don’t show up. For everyday of work that we get in the field, we get Rs.100-150. So nobody complains,” Vrinda, 13, said.
The NGO, Save the Children, has been working in some of the districts in Vidarbha, trying to encourage farmers and parents to stop children from working, in order to complete their education up to the age of 14, as mandated by the Right to Education Act. In the last three years, the organisation claims to have mainstreamed more than 12,000 children in 986 villages: some had completely dropped out while some were irregular for months. And yet, villages across Yavatmal are untouched by intervention by any organisation.
In the villages that are supported by Save the Children, farmers say the number of child labour has gone down, “but it is difficult to refuse needy parents.”
In Amravati’s Dadhi village in Bhatkuli taluka Dudarao Telmore, a landless labourer stated that his daughter Kiran had to give up education at 12 years to help feed the family. “There is no other way. The school is six km away. She cannot do both: work and go to school,” he said. Kiran, now 16, works on the fields in the cotton-growing season and otherwise settles for odd jobs.

At a farmers’ gathering in Dabhade village in Amravati district, cotton growers lament that parents themselves are insisting on making their children work. “What the government pays us farmers is not enough, and so we cannot give the labourers enough money. So they eventually get their children to work on the fields too,” says Triambak Raut, a farmer.

“We know that we cannot afford agriculture: the labourers cannot afford to be just labourers. So they have to send
their kids to the farm to work.” For some, it is justified because the parents can then pay for the children’s education and other needs. “The children work in the sowing season in f June, just before the rains. At least then the rest of the year the children can go to school in peace,” Devidas Patil said.
Ashok Pingale, State programme manager of Save the Children, believes that the discrepancy between the Child Labour Act and the RTE is holding back the spread of basic education. “Only if the government bans all forms of child labour for children under 14 under the Child Labour Act, as recommended in one of the amendments, will we be able to realise the potential of the Right to Education Act fully.”

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) member Yogesh Dube, who recently released a study that said child labour is prevalent in cotton seed farming in Andhra Pradesh, said the Commission was not aware of the children working on cotton fields in Maharashtra. “If we get media reports about the occurrence we will definitely look into it,” he told The Hindu.

The Hindu, 11 June 2012


‘Over 50,000 kids from south Tamil Nadu deployed as child labour’

Child Labour

MADURAI: Over 50,000 children from Madurai, Theni and Dindigul continue to be sent to the northern states to work in factories run by local merchants in violation of the Right To Education (RTE) Act and need to be identified and brought back, members of the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), Tamil Nadu and Puducherry said at the state-level conference on child labour held in Madurai on Monday.

C Visakan of Kottapatti in Theni district narrated how he was sold by his father for Rs 1,500 to a broker Solairaj from the same village in the year 2004, during his school holidays. He was taken to Chhattisgarh where he worked in a ‘muruku’ factory with other 13 year olds, for 20 hours a day in front of a fire. But he was returned to his parents when he couldn’t work after his employer injured him by pouring hot oil on his body. Rajkumar of Usilampatti and S Prabu from Polipatti had similar stories.

Later talking to media persons, P Joseph Victoraj, state organiser CACL, M Jeeva and B S Vanarajan southern districts organiser of CACL said that child labour continued to flourish as children were being trafficked with or without their parents’ consent to work in industries in the northern states. Many came from the three southern districts, predominantly the Usilampatti area, where studies had revealed that 60 to 70% of the trafficked children were from dalit communities.

Although they had identified about 24 families who had sent their children for labour up north, there were many more. In most cases, the government had no follow-up programme for child labourers rescued from their employees, like Balamurugan from Usilampatti who was among the 42 bonded labourers rescued recently and brought to Madurai. Balamurugan had been tortured and traumatized to such an extent that he had lost his ability to speak in public. Vanarajan said that the government should ensure physical, psychological and emotional settlement for these children as about 15% of these former child labourers end up returning to their work places. Child labour is punishable under the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act, where an affected child is entitled to a compensation of Rs three lakhs.

The Times of India, 01 May 2012


Indian girl trapped in life of cigarette rolling

Access to education, Child Labour, Girl Child Education

DHULIYAN, India (AP) — Sagira Ansari sits on a dusty sack outside her uneven brick home in this poor town in eastern India, her legs folded beneath her. She cracks her knuckles, then rubs charcoal ash between her palms.

With the unthinking swiftness of a movement performed countless times before, she slashes a naked razor blade into a square-cut leaf to trim off the veins. She drops in flakes of tobacco, packs them with her thumbs, rolls the leaf tightly between her fingers and ties it off with two twists of a red thread.

For eight hours a day, Sagira makes bidis — thin brown cigarettes that are as central to Indian life as chai and flat bread.

She is 11 years old.

Sagira is among hundreds of thousands of children toiling in the hidden corners of rural India. Many work in hazardous industries crucial to the economy: the fiery brick kilns that underpin the building industry, the pesticide-laden fields that produce its food.

Most of the children in Sagira’s town of Dhuliyan in West Bengal state work in the tobacco dust to feed India’s near limitless demand for bidis.

Under Indian law, this is legal.

Sagira, who has deep brown eyes and a wide smile, joined her family’s bidi work when she was 7. At first she just rolled out thread for her older sisters and brother, then she helped finish off the cigarettes, pushing down the open ends. Last year, she graduated to full-scale rolling.

She is not alone. Her best friend, Amira, also rolls bidis. So do Wasima and Jaminoor and the rest of the girls in a neighborhood that is, at its heart, a giant, open-air bidi factory.

Parents and children roll cigarettes on rooftops, in the alleyways, by the roads. One woman draped in a red shawl in the yard behind Sagira’s house breast feeds her baby while rolling. Of the roughly 20,000 families in Dhuliyan, an estimated 95 percent roll bidis to survive.

Sagira is expert enough that even when distracted, her fingers continue to flit blindly through the tobacco shavings in front of her.

She says the work can make her ill, with a cold, a cough, a fever. Her head often aches. So do her fingers.

Sometimes, she takes her woven basket of tendu leaves and tobacco to the banks of the Ganges to roll in a circle with her friends. She stops every so often to splash in the river for a few moments. Then she gets back to work.

“I can’t play around,” she laments.


Manu Seikh, the bidi king of Sagira’s neighborhood, sits on a roadside bench. In front of him lie orderly stacks of rupee bills — tens, fifties, hundreds — large bags filled with one- and two-rupee coins and a small box holding his asthma inhaler.

He and thousands of middlemen like him are the linchpins that provide the veneer of legality to the bidi industry, insulating the powerful companies selling bidis from the families and children rolling them.

Seikh, 66, got his start in a bidi factory when he was 16, back when bidis were rolled on the factory floor.

A 1986 law barred children under 14 from working with bidis and other hazardous industries, but left a huge loophole that allowed children to assist their families with work performed at home.

So now, while the tobacco is threshed, cut and blended in factories, it is then given to Seikh and other middlemen to distribute to families for rolling. The bidis are then brought back to the factory for roasting, packaging and shipping. A pack of 10 to 12 will retail for 6 rupees, or 12 cents.

The informal nature of the work makes it nearly impossible to count how many of India’s 7 million bidi rollers are children, but estimates range from 250,000 to 1 million.

Every noon, adults and children carry baskets and tubs filled with bundles of bidis to Seikh’s corner stall, where his men scan them for quality, reject those deemed substandard and stack the others in shallow wooden boxes. A bookkeeper makes a note in a ledger and hands over a chit for payment.

Then the rollers receive more tobacco and tendu leaves for another day’s work.

Seikh blames poverty for forcing the children to work, and the government for failing to stop it.

“I am very concerned about children not going to school and losing their futures. But we are helpless,” Seikh says.

In his nearby factory, Ranjan Choudhary, 37, also distances himself from blame, even as boys aged about 7 or 8 slide bidis into plastic pouches and seal them on a small stove.

Whatever the child labor laws say, he sees the industry as “a lifeline” for the people.

“It affects children, but for them to survive, this is the only industry here. There is no other source of income,” he said.

The industry’s chief trade group also brushed off responsibility.

“The child has every right to help the mother. As long as we don’t recruit the children to roll bidis, I don’t think we violate any act,” said Umesh Parekh, chief executive of the All India Bidi Industry Federation.

Bidi rollers should “themselves exercise restraint” in using children, he said, adding that his trade group had no plans to fight against child labor.

“The industry is not doing anything for that. It is for the government to do,” he said.

The government is reevaluating its child labor policy, said Mrutyunjay Sarangi, India’s labor secretary, but had yet to decide on any concrete action.

“We are having discussions,” he said.

India has tacitly recognized this Dickensian nightmare with a recent law making education compulsory up to age 14, said Bhavna Mukhopadhya of the Voluntary Health Association of India, an aid group. “Everything has a time, and I think this is the right time to do it … you have to ban child labor across the board, strictly,” she said.

But efforts to change the labor laws are complicated by the bidi industry’s clout in government. One company owner even sits in the national Cabinet.


Sagira’s town was once a textile center where her family for generations wove scarves and sarongs on hand looms.

Mired in poverty, they lived in a mud and thatch hut and could afford only a single meal a day for their 12 children. “We were starving,” said Sagira’s father, Mahmood Ansari.

Then the Ganges caused flooding that destroyed the family’s house — and its loom.

Meanwhile, merchants from other states realized the cheap labor here would be ideal for bidi work.

Sagira’s grandfather turned to bidi rolling, then her father when he turned 12.

Now, every day at 8 a.m., Sagira, her 17-year-old brother and sisters aged 18 and 14 begin a four-hour rolling session. They stop to bathe and have lunch, spend a few hours cutting the tendu leaves into neat squares and then roll for a few more hours.

Because of bidis, his seven children are far better off than he was, Ansari said.

The family gets 75 rupees ($1.50) for every 1,000 bidis rolled, totaling about $150 a month. That’s enough for three meals a day, with a little fish or egg once a week. A few months ago, Ansari used loans to replace the home of tarps and sticks his family had lived in for two decades with an unfinished two-room house of brick and plaster with dirt floors.

But there is not much hope for Sagira’s future.

She’s been to school only twice in the past month; she’s too busy, her mother, Alea Bibi, said. She goes only when there’s a reason, when new books are being handed out or to register for the aid the government gives to bidi rollers as an incentive to educate their children.

When she does show up, she is humiliated for her absences, made to hold her ears with her elbows outstretched and repeatedly sit down and stand up. It doesn’t work, yet each year she graduates to the next grade, regardless of her attendance.

She barely knows math, but can at least count to 25, the number of bidis in a finished bundle.

But at night, after the work is done, her brother, who rarely attends school himself, uses her schoolbooks to teach her to read.

She dreams of being a schoolteacher.

Far more likely, she will get faster at rolling bidis, which will improve her marriage prospects. Then, as so often happens here, her husband might stop working, and she — and eventually her own children — will become the bidi-rolling breadwinners.

Her father sees no way to break the cycle.

“We are destined to roll bidis,” he said.

NECN, 18 March 2012


Born to penury

Access to education, Child Labour

Children living in slums are among the least likely to attend school, says UNICEF’s latest report

Aphorisms we have been inured to from lore and literature such as child is the father of the man and a babe is always a bundle of joy uphold the dignity and pristine innocence of children the world over. But as urbanisation has spread far and wide, the attendant ramifications are ravaging to say the least to children of lesser means and least luck to state the truth in all its jarring reality. This is what has been captured with clarity and solemnity in the State of the World’s Children 2012 of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released recently.

The Unicef Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake was not exaggerating when he said in the foreword to the report that hundreds of millions of children living in urban slums without access to basic services are vulnerable to risks “ranging from violence and exploitation to the injuries, illnesses and death that result from living in crowded settlements atop hazardous rubbish dumps or alongside railroad tracks”.

One need not look elsewhere to understand this ugly underbelly as one travels in the swanky Delhi Metros elevated track between the Pragati Maidan and Indraprashad xxxx stretch, one can see behind the stately WHO office the abject state of existence by legions of slum dwellers. No wonder, he bemoans that from Ghana and Kenya to Bangladesh and India, children living in slums are among the least likely to attend school with “scarcity and dispossession” afflicting “the poorest and most marginalized children and families disproportionately”.

The report cites a study of the National Family Health Survey in eight cities of India from 2005 to 2006 to demonstrate that levels of under-nutrition in urban areas continue to be very high. At least a quarter of urban children under five were stunted, indicating that they had been undernourished for sometime. A survey in Delhi found a primary school attendance rate of 54.5 per cent among children living in slums in 2004-05.

These are figures five to six years ago and the situation in the meanwhile had not mended as official figures for such people hardly exist since most of the slum dwellers get pampered only during elections to civil or assembly or national bodies and mostly left in the lurch to fend for themselves.

In this grim scenario, it is small consolation to know from Unicef India Representative Ms Karin Hulshof that India currently has an estimated urban population of 377 million and by 2026 it is expected that 40 per cent of the total populace will live in urban areas. Her observation that a child growing up in an urban poor milieu has challenges akin to ones being faced by a child in rural India when it comes to her/his health, nutrition, access to water and sanitation, education and protection does not need any solid evidence as one can understand this from a mere glance at these unfortunate brats for no fault of theirs other than being born to penury! Unicef reckons that as much as 97 million people live in one of the nearly 50,000 slums across India.

What is a matter of grave concern is that as greater urbanisation gets entrenched, the report foresees that in a few years majority of children would grow up in towns or cities rather than in rural areas. Globally, children born in cities already account for 60 per cent of the increase in urban population and with opportunities in rural and hinterlands becoming too sparse, the migration for eking a better livelihood in cities or semi-urban towns would only compound the problems plaguing the urban poor in general and the urban children in particular.

So it does not come as too rude a shock when the report estimates that 2.5 million people worldwide have been trafficked into forced labour. Of this, some 22 to 50 per cent of trafficking victims are children. Even in the absence of trafficking, many children are forced to work in order to survive. Thus around the world, an estimated 215 million boys and girls aged 5-17 were engaged in child labour in 2008, 115 million of them in hazardous work. This is despite the sanctimonious declaration by many countries that they had signed the convention against child labour and that they had abolished such callous work being wrested from children. Moradabad, Mumbai, Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu readily come to mind for such sordid practices even in emerging economies like India, not to speak of the countless children being employed in roadside dabas, cafeteria within the country elsewhere even today.

It can be said to the credit of Unicef that its best intentions and good practices to rid the scourge of exploiting innocent children under obnoxious conditions is appreciable. But, most of the UN member countries do not take up the plight of these pathetic children to ameliorate their lot in any meaningful manner to bring a shaft of light to these unfortunate ones. It is time Indian authorities addressed the unequal access to basic services for children growing up in slums across the nation, without constantly touting up high economic growth mantra to solve all problems—distribution of fruits of growth eventually need to be ensured only by the government with a conscience!

The Hindu, 07 March 2012


‘Ban child labour in all sectors’

Child Labour, Right to Education

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has written to the PMO and other ministries to amend the Child Labour Act so that child labour is abolished in all sectors.

NCPCR chairperson Shanta Sinha on Wednesday said if Right to Education (RTE) had to be implemented, then child labour in all industries should be abolished so that every child could go to school.

“Basically the Act prohibits child labour only in 60 or so hazardous industries. But if you want Right to Education implemented when every child has to go to school, then child labour has to be abolished totally. It cannot stay in certain sectors and it has to be abolished in all sectors to enable every child to come to school,” Sinha said.

Right to Education
The NCPCR chairperson said she had written to the PMO and ministries concerned about the amendments and was expecting changes to be enacted in the law.

“We have already moved on it and we have written letters to law ministry, labour ministry, women and child development ministry, to the Prime Minister’s office and the National Advisory Council (NAC) and I think they are moving on the matter,” Sinha said.

He also added she expected the UP government to take action against police officials who had disclosed the identity of a teenaged rape victim in Noida. “Certainly disciplinary action will have to be taken against the police for disclosing information on the girl. This should not be repeated,” he said.

Sinha also said in the recent times, the situation in the country had improved and people were demanding more amenities and their rights from the states.

“Now at least we are taking about rights, children as entitlement holders. There has been a shift happening because then you can demand. It at least now puts the onus on the state to provide for the requirements,” Sinha said.

Deccan Herald, 05 March 2012


SoBo’s dark secret

Access to education, Child Labour, Government run schools

South Mumbai’s tony A Ward might be the most posh locality in the city, where the rich and famous live, but as many as 2,699 children between three and 16 years do not have access to schools. Many of these kids also work to support their families

South Mumbai’s tony A Ward is probably the most posh neighbourhood in the city, but scratch a little and its dark underbelly will come spilling out.

An ongoing survey has revealed that nearly 2,699 children in the age group of 3 and 16 years in the locality do not attend schools, and an approximate number of 215 within the group suffer from some form of disability. Many of these children also work to support their families.

This when the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2010 aims to ensure that all children in the age group of 6 to14 years exercise their fundamental right to education.

According to the findings of Shiksha Sankalp, an action based research, a project under the aegis of ADAPT (Able Disabled All People Together), co-funded by BMZ (federal ministry of economic corporation), Germany and CBM (Christian Blind Mission) reveal that there exists structural gaps in the implementation of the Act.

According to Sathi Alur, Honorary Advisor and Member of Governing body, ADAPT, “To make the Right to Education a reality many components at the ground level need to be looked into to make the entire Act a success.

India is the best country in the world for making social policy on paper. What we do not do is translate that intention into action. Our sample findings have revealed this.” A door-to-door census was undertaken by the group to find out the number of disabled children who do not have access to education.

“With no reliable statistics on the number of disabled children who do not go to school, we undertook an extensive census of all kids in the age group of 6 to14 years, which has brought an unbelievable figure of both disabled and able children who are still deprived of basic education,” said Dr Mithu Alur, founder of ADAPT.

According to the findings, out of the 2,699 students (between 3 to 16 years of age) who do not go to school, 1,270 are male. “Under the Right to Education Act every child, able or disabled, has the right to study in the school next door for free. The state government is bound to make funding available for the same.

The Act makes it mandatory for every school to have 25 per cent reservation for disabled children and even girl students, but this is not adhered to by many schools,” Alur added.

So far, eight screening camps in ‘A’ ward area have been conducted and 335 children in Colaba have also been screened. According to Alur, the research is still ongoing. “Once the children are identified, screened and evaluated, medical and educational intervention begins,” he added.

Speaking about the need to help disabled children, Daniel Mont, a former senior economist at the World Bank, who now works on the mapping exercise for Shiksha Sankalp, said, “In a developed world we can advertise services for the disabled and people have resources to come and access those services.

But it won’t work in poorer places in India where we have to go and find them out and also study the specific barriers that are preventing the disabled from accessing the services. Our study has revealed that between the age group of 6-14 years, children without disability have a school attendance of 84 per cent, while those with disability shown attendance of only 53 per cent.

This is even more alarming when you take into account the gender of the disabled. More female disabled children are forced to remain at home to males.” When contacted, Fauzia Khan, Minister of State for school education, admitted that a lot still needs to be done for the Right to Education Act to be successful.

According to her, the state government has already prepared a master plan for the implementation of Right to Education Act. The rough master plan was also put on the official government website asking for comments and objections. They have reportedly received a number of suggestions and recommendations, which is currently under consideration.

To understand how such a large number of children in South Mumbai are being denied education, Sunday MiD Day travelled across the locality. Here are the stories of some of the children whose days are spent in their homes, instead of schools.

‘They will beat him in school’
Spastic by birth, nine year-old Dhruv Girish Mali lives with his parents Girish (34) and Chandrika (30) in Ambedkar Nagar, Cuffe Parade. Originally from Rajasthan, Dhruv’s parents claim they feared that other students would bully their son and thus they did not get him admitted to any school.

According to Chandrika, Dhruv’s mother, “I was told by villagers (in Rajasthan) that there is no school for such children and even if my son went to a regular school, the fear of his classmates beating him scared me.”

Far from receiving any education, Dhruv does not even have a birth certificate. According to the parents they were so concerned about this health that they never realised how necessary a birth certificate is.

Removed from three schools
In the case of Ayush Warekar, a nine year-old resident of Transit Camp, near Cuffe Parade police station, he was removed from two schools, after they felt that the young child suffered from autism.

According to Ayush’s mother Divya, ‘When Ayush was 3 years old, he was admitted in junior kindergarten in an English-medium school in June 2006. But within three months, the school administration decided to remove him and handed us his relieving certificate.”

He was later admitted to another school, but the class teacher complained that Ayush was inattentive and did not maintain eye-to-eye contact with him. He was then referred to a psychiatrist practicing at Masina hospital, Byculla. While the doctor felt Ayush would improve over time, he was removed from his second school too.

Child who takes care of the house
On the other hand, 10 year-old Shazada who lives at the transit camp in Cuffe Parade, dreams of becoming an engineer. He, however, instead of attending school, has to stay back at home assisting his disabled uncle Imran Ansari (30) and grandmother Saleemabi (60).

Unlike other children from his neighbourhood, Shazada’s day starts with him filling water, buying vegetables and assisting his uncle in cooking.

According to Ansari, Shazada’s parents who live in Mumbra handed the 10 year-old to him, when he was only four months old. “I am a polio-affected person and my mother can’t see or walk because of diabetes. Our only support is Shazada who takes care of us.”

‘Wait till next year’
Shirin Hussain (9) and her brother Abid (8), studied in the third and second standards respectively in Varanasi. However after the demise of their father Rashid (34) last year, they along with their mother Sameena (32) moved to Mumbai to live in their grandmother’s house.

Sameena has reportedly been trying to get her two children admitted in a local school but to no avail.. Sameena said, “The schools we approached asked me to get their final examination results and apply in 2012 after the summer vacation.

For last six months both my children who are otherwise very bright in studies, have been sitting at home, doing nothing.” Sameena approached five schools, including a local BMC-run school.

Mid Day, 19 February 2012


On the side of the children

Access to education, Child Labour, Community Schools

Across five states, Bal Bandhus fight for child rights, often standing up to Naxals in the process.

In nine remote, conflict-ridden blocks of five states, a cadre of young people specially selected and trained for their leadership qualities and commitment to child rights are ensuring that children go to school as mandated by the Right to Education Act, anganwadi centres nurture infants, teachers actually teach and food meant for mid-day meals is not siphoned off. One of them, a 19-year-old tribal girl in Andhra Pradesh, stood up fearlessly to the Naxals when they were stopping distribution of food to children.

They are the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) defenders of child rights or Bal Bandhus (BB) and their work is supported by the Prime Minister’s Office. A three-year pilot programme, the Bal Bandhu scheme was launched in December 2010 in Naxal affected blocks of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. In charge of the 20 Bal Bandhus in each block are their mentors — two resource persons, who have worked in Naxal affected areas on child rights issues or with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Just 19 to 30 years of age, BBs work closely with the community and have been able to form groups of Bal Mitras (friends of the child) as well as mahila sangathans (women’s groups) to help them reach the community. It is this collective of people from the community who are able to talk to headmasters when schools don’t function properly or uniform money is not distributed to students. They are able to cut through the corruption and red tape to get admissions and procure transfer certificates without paying a bribe.

They have an awesome range of responsibilities and maybe just a cycle to take them around from village to village. It is they and their supporters who are able to persuade parents to allow their children to study and not be pushed into work. They get the community to write letters to the mukhia for allotment of land for school buildings and ensure that caste and community barriers are overcome and children eat midday meals together.

Different challenges

For Ashok Singh, 19, Bal Bandhu of Rohtasgarh panchayat in the heart of Naxal affected territory in Bihar, the biggest challenge was in providing a school for girls. Ashok met community members and created awareness on child rights. When Sunita Kumari, a 14-year-old who had never been to school, met Ashok and expressed interest in education, he met her parents and tried to persuade them to send her to the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya which had residential school facilities. They, however, were keen to get her married. Along with Bal Mitras and influential members of the community, the parents were told about the illegality and hazards of an early marriage. After persuasion, the parents relented and she was sent to a Residential Bridge Course facility for upgrading her knowledge so that she can join a regular school. Though just 19 years, after just 13 months as a Bal Bandhu, Ashok is confident and loves the new respect and status he has in the community.

The 177 Bal Bandhus have so far been able to enrol 8,633 children into schools, made 594 schools and 458 anganwadis functional, and registered 1,797 children into residential bridge courses and Kasturba Gandhi Ballika Vidyalayas. In addition, 7,539 academically weak children have been provided coaching support.

There are innumerable examples of the efficacy of the Bal Bandhus. There is the story of the seven children from Chhattisgarh who were working in a juice factory in Andhra Pradesh and were reunited with their families thanks to the sarpanch who became proactive after interaction with the Bal Bandhus. Mohammed Wazir Ansari, another Bal Bandhu of Nunpharwa panchayat, was also able to rescue a dozen children from child labour and send them to school. Five of them were employed by a shopkeeper for packing tobacco. When Mohammed spoke to the shopkeeper, he maintained the children were all members of his family and he was merely utilising their services. The children would hide every time he approached the shop. Finally he managed to speak to the children and got the names of their parents and their villages. He then spoke to the parents and rescued the children.

Improving the system

Even while motivating parents to send their children to school, the Bal Bandhus have directed their attention to making schools fully functional and ensuring all teachers took classes. In Khaira block, Jamui, Bihar, an informal teachers’ forum has been formed and meets every month to discuss how to take the programme forward. According to Sunil Kumar, assistant teacher at Goli Primary School, Goli panchayat, “It always helps to discuss the problems. When I joined, only 24 of the 75 students enrolled would attend school. Now with the help of the Bal Bandhus, this number has increased to 50.”

Another equally important benefit of the Bal Bandhu Scheme is that in an area where Naxals are active, these young and highly motivated defenders of child rights are preventing children from going astray and joining the Naxals. Understanding the power of education, many of them are opting for higher education. Others, encouraged by the respect they are getting as Bal Bandhus, want to become teachers!

The Hindu, 04 February 2012


Indian street kids work at dawn, then dream of school

Access to education, Child Labour, Community Schools

NEW DELHI, May 31, 2011 (AFP) – Fourteen-year-old Deepchand should be learning but instead he lies sprawled fast asleep on the floor of an Indian school — exhausted by his early morning labours finding rubbish to sell.

Abandoned by his mother, his father dead, he works as a trash collector on the streets of New Delhi, starting two hours before dawn collecting plastic bottles, drink cans and metal — anything that will earn him a little cash.

Deepchand, who like many street kids has only one name, uses the plastic bag in which he collects garbage as his sleeping bag when he beds down on the pavement at night.

But there is hope for Deepchand, and countless others like him, through the Aviva Street to School Centre, a programme run by Save the Children that targets street kids to try to prepare them for entry into mainstream schools.

“It’s hard to teach them at times — they’re so exhausted,” said Save the Children programme worker Pradeep Kumar, gazing down at the sleeping Deepchand, whose hands are calloused from work.

Getting India’s millions of street children into schools is just one of the big challenges facing the government as it seeks to implement its landmark Right to Education Act which is just over a year old.

That’s where transition institutions like Aviva come in — helping children learn the most basic social skills such as sharing, and allowing them to catch up on lost school years so that they can one day attend full-time classes.

But many impoverished parents, who rely on income from the children to support the family, see no point in education.

“My father says, ‘Do rag picking’ but I want to go to school,” says nine-year-old Suleiman in the brightly decorated classroom that lies up a flight of narrow stairs in a bustling market.

“The parents are so fixated on getting enough money to survive, the value of an education falls,” says teacher Nivedita Chopra.

“But if they see their child doing well and feel it could eventually translate into a better life for them, it can change their minds,” Chopra says, as she busily puts stars on drawings thrust at her by pupils.

A few of the children at the school, which is part of a global network funded by the Aviva insurance group, have had a bit of formal schooling, others none.

“Some of them we have to teach the very basics — like how to hold a pencil,” says another teacher, Rekha, who goes by one name.

Deepchand — by now awake — says he wishes for only one thing: to obtain training that would give him a skill and get him off the streets.

“These children are like any other children, they want to go to school, wear a school uniform, but most of the time they don’t get the chance,” says Kumar.

India’s education act means all states must now provide free schooling for every child between the age of six and 14 but its implementation is badly bogged down.

State governments, which are in charge of education, oppose any change that the federal government will not fund.

Just five of India’s 29 states — Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Sikkim and Manipur — have taken preliminary steps to implement the law, which aims to get 10 million unschooled children into the education system.

“The education act so far has all been cosmetic. Nothing has really changed on the ground,” said child advocacy coordinator Umesh Kumar Gupta of the volunteer National Coalition for Education.

Even when children such as Deepchand and Suleiman do get into school, their chances of getting a proper education are bleak.

The shortage of teachers is estimated to be 1.4 million so classes are overcrowded. States like India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh have more than 200,000 teacher vacancies, according to the volunteer Right to Education Forum.

“Who will train that many teachers?” asks Krishna Kumar, professor of education at Delhi University, who adds many teachers are appointed without “any attention to basic qualifications.”

Teacher absenteeism is estimated at 25 percent and even when there are teachers in class, many children do not “learn anything substantial,” says Kumar.

“It matters to no-one whether they make tangible progress,” he says.

Critics also point to legislation banning child labour that is routinely flouted with millions of children regularly putting in 12 hour days as household help, in restaurants, factories, mines and other jobs.

“If a child is working how can they be in school?” says Bhuwan Ribhu, a New Delhi lawyer who works with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement.

Experts say India’s “youth bulge” could drive economic development or be a demographic disaster, threatening social cohesion if the government fails to provide education for its brimming young population.

Already, over half of India’s population of 1.2 billion is below 25 and the country has a literacy rate of just 65 percent, lagging far behind many other developing countries. Neighbouring China’s literacy rate is 90.9 percent.

However, 13-year-old Deepak at the Aviva school, whose parents are rubbish pickers, says he is determined to make a better life for himself.

“I want to be a teacher,” he says, flashing a dimpled grin.

MySinchew.com, May 31, 2011


Slip between lip & cup

Child Labour

VARANASI: The Right to Education (RTE) Act that promises a right to free and compulsory education to Every child between 6-14 years is going to complete its first year on April 1. But, unfortunately, a number of children of this age group are still out of school in the district, though basic education authorities claim there is no child left out of school in the district.

“We had identified 1,257 such children during the last survey conducted in July-August 2010 and all of them were admitted to different schools,” said Triloki Sharma of basic education department when contacted on Monday. “Presently there is no child of 6-14-year age-group out of school,” he claimed and added the next survey would be conducted in the coming months of July-August.

It may sound very pleasant, but the reality is something else. One can easily see children engaged in roadside dhabas, tea stalls, rag picking and other ‘unhealthy’ jobs. They do not go to schools due to one reason or the other. “The claim of officials itself contradicts the fact that the school drop-out rate in the Uttar Pradesh is about 25-30%,” said Rajni Kant, state convener of Campaign against Child Labour (CACL). “Till date, the maximum number of child labourers (about 10 lakh) are in UP,” he said and added in such a situation, how could they claim that all children were brought under the umbrella of RTE Act.

“Even the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is not functioning properly,” claimed Lenin Raghuvanshi of Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR). Both Kant and Raghuvanshi alleged that the education right of children was being violated openly with issues like improper student-children ratio and lack of proper infrastructure. The PVCHR recently conducted a sample survey of 17 primary schools in Varanasi, Sonebhadra and Ambedkar Nagar districts to evaluate the situation. It was found that only 72 teachers were rendering education to 10,125 students there, said Raghuvanshi and added there was no programme to connect child labourers in those schools.

A large number of children of this age group are street children and engaged in rag picking. There is no official data on the exact number of such children. However, according to Rajiv Srivasta of Vishal Bharat Sansthan, around 12,000 rag pickers and street children were found in a survey conducted three years ago.

On the other hand, the finance minister, while presenting the Union Budget, had announced Rs 21,000 crore to SSA, which was 40% higher than the previous year’s allocation of Rs 15,000 crore. According to reports of CACL and HAQ Centre for Child Right, increased allocations in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal Schemes will hopefully stem the drop-out rate. SSA, the central government’s flagship programme launched in 2001, aims at universalisation of elementary education in a time-bound manner. It is being implemented in partnership with state governments to cover the entire country. The emphasis is on mainstreaming out-of-school children through diverse strategies and providing eight years of schooling for all children in 6-14 age group. It aims at providing useful and relevant elementary education to all children in this age group by 2010.

“But, how can the government achieve this goal without adequate number of schools,” wondered Kant and added many area of the district, particularly minority-dominated localities, lacked government-run primary schools. According to norms, there should be a government primary school for a population of 300 at a distance of every one kilometre and an upper primary school for a population of 800 at every two kilometres. But, according to the records of the basic education department, there are 1,032 primary and 352 upper primary schools in the district.


Times of India, March 28. 2011


In 25 years, only one prosecuted in Karnataka for child labour

Child Labour

It has been 25 years since child labour was banned under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, across the country. But statistics show that in 25 years, only 446 cases of child labour were registered, and only one personprosecuted in the state.

With a low rate of conviction, child labour is flourishing, said activists.

At the recently concluded Campaign Against Child Labour Karnataka (CACL), south zone chapter in Chennai, activists demanded amendment in the Act to give harsh punishment to violators.

“The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, has failed miserably at protecting children from turning into labourers. The Act needs to be amended to give severe punishment to people involved,” said a member of CACL, Karnataka chapter.

People working for child rights have also demanded to change the definition of ‘child’ under various laws.

“In most of the laws/Acts, a child means a person up to the age of 14. We want to raise the age bar to 18,” said the member of CACL.

Activists said there were about 2,00,000 child labourers in Bangalore, working in houses, restaurants, dhabas, railway and bus stations.NGOs claim Karnataka has as many as 10,00,000 child labourers. But there is no exact data. The government estimates the figure to be about 3,00,000. Moreover, the notification on prohibition of employment of children as domestic help and in restaurants or roadside dhabas came into effect on October 10, 2006. According to it, violators could face jail for up to two years and a fine up to Rs20,000.

“The notification also did not help curb the child labour menace in the state. It continues right under the government’s nose,” said Vasudev Sharma, member of Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR). Activists felt that once Right to Education (RTE) Act is implemented with full vim and vigour no child will be forced to work.

“A child out of school is a potential child labourer. Once the RTE Act is implemented, curb on child labour could be implemented with ease,” said an activist.

Recently, labour minister BN Bache Gowda was alleged to have engaged child labourers while hosting his son’s wedding party. Though he denied the allegations, activists are demanding a probe into the matter.

“This shows that politicians, who are supposed to protect child rights, are themselves forcing children to work. The case needs to be investigated,” said the member of CACL.

DNA, March 5, 2011

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