The Indian government introduced the Right to Education in 2009 and a lot is being done to ensure education but many foreseen and unforeseen hurdles block the way to the dream of an educated India. One of the many hurdles is child labour. Statistics showing the ground realities roar for attention. One child out of every 11 children in India is working. According to the Census report 2011, Andhra Pradesh is the state with the fourth highest number for child labour with Uttar Pradesh at the first position, Maharashtra at second and Bihar at the third place .
Health Education Adoption Rehabilitation Society (HEARDS), an organisation based in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh is working to phase out child labour and ensure education to all children with an overall solution. Under their project that took off in 2002, HEARDS has been able to enrol 535 children who were formerly child labourers into formal schooling.
ShelnugamSai, a 12 years old boy was working at a tea stall when members of HEARDS saw him. The team members approached the tea stall owner and Sai’s parents. “My father is a mason and my mother asked me to work as we didn’t have enough money. I started working there when I was eight years old and worked there for two years. When my current teacher saw me at the tea stall she asked me to join their school where I will be able to study and play. I was happy to join but my parents refused to send me here. It was after repeated attempts from my teachers that my parents settled for a trial for 2-3 weeks. Then they finally agreed. I have been studying at this HEARDS centre since the past two years and will be joining formal school from next year,” says Sai whose mother tongue is Telugu in a little hesitant yet clear English. Having keen interest in vehicles, Sai says he wants to become a mechanical engineer when he grows up.
HEARDS currently has six centres in different areas of Chittoor where they bring in working children to study and make their understanding and knowledge levels at par with other students of their age. Each centre has three teachers, one cook and one animator who plays the role of coordinating with parents and employers and convince them.
It all starts with identifying child labourers in vicinity.“We keep observing around in our areas while travelling daily and when we observe working children, we talk to their employers first because they create issues when they loose on cheap child labourers. We educate them about laws pertaining to child labour and their punishments. Many times we have complained about such non-abiding employers to the labour department. After this is resolved, we talk to the parents and convince them to send their children to study at our centres,” says SunitaKumari, teacher since 12 years in HEARDS who also accompanies animators to field.
Many times HEARDS fails to convince parents to let their children study. But they ensure that the child is not sent to work with the help of labour department.
Chittoor has many migrant labourers coming from surrounding areas in search of work. Because daily bread is the necessity, education is ignored. Most parents say that they send their children to work as they don’t have enough money to feed themselves. “It becomes important to cater to their basic needs too. So we organise skill training for mothers and elder siblings of these young kids.
So far we have trained 607 mothers in textile design and other skills who now earn about Rs 3500 per month. Also 85 elder siblings are now linked to wages or jobs. This provides an overall solution to the problem without which children tend to go back to work under family pressure,” says K Sajan, Chairman and Founder, HEARDS.
It is not easy to deal with working children as many of them at such young ages are addicted to smoking beedis and chewing betel nuts. “While explaining them about the hazardous health effects of such addictions, we engage them into games and studies so much that they quit wrong habits,” tells Sajan explaining that this factor also helps in taking parents into confidence that their children are on the correct path.
To ensure that children don’t quit education after being enrolled in formal schools, a regular process is put in place. “When new children come to our centre, we give them games and computers to play initially so that they like coming to the centre and build a bond with teachers and other students. After three months, studies start very subtly with playful methods so that the child learns things faster. Every child remains at our centre for typically one and half to two years,” explains Sajan, a Masters in Computer Application by education and an engineering college professor by profession.
Monthly meetings are held with parents to involve them in their children’s education and motivate them to let them study further. Children are then enrolled to government schools for formal education in the grade matching to their ages. “Our animator checks the attendance of our children in government schools every month. If they find low attendance, they visit concerned parents and ensure their regular schooling,” adds Sajan.
Explaining the reason why Sajan founded HEARDS in 1999 he says, “While I was working with an NGO relating to other issues, a friend asked me to rehabilitate two working kids. I took them to my NGO but they refused to rehabilitate them as their work area was different. I approached government schools but they refused to enrol them saying they will not be able to cope up with studies of their standard. I searched for NGOs working for child labourers but didn’t find any. So I along with my six other friends including my brother Santy Sajan started HEARDS.”
“Initially we taught them for a couple of hours after their work. But it was in 2002 that we set up centres and started working in a holistic manner. Today some of our children have graduated, are working and some have also got married. This feeling of happiness cannot be substituted by any amount of money or any other job,” he adds.
Started with aid from a government scheme , currently the NGO manages its expenses with funds from Vibha- a USA based social venture catalyst and Volkart Foundation. Both organisations take care of three centres each.
“We have strict monitoring system in place with surprise checks to the location. When we heard of their success stories they didn’t sound very believable but on my frequent visits I have found the work to be community driven and all success stories to be true. I have spoken to parents and all of them had a mind shift and were happily sending their children to study,” says Jyoti Wadmare, project manager, Vibha.
More funds into approaches like these can make children free from the child labour trap. “We were approached by some corporate firms who were interested in our work; but they refused as soon as they heard of the location as Chittoor. They say Chittoor is very far away and so they can’t help us. We would be glad to have wp funds here and cover the entire population of Chittoor and further,” says a hopeful Sajan.