Too busy working to go to school
Until a year ago, eight-year-old Laxmina was too busy working to even think of going to school. She earned about Rs. 30 (less than US$1) a day in return for delivering milk to nearby villages more prosperous than her own.
But all that has changed now. Laxmina has been attending an Alternative Learning Centre (ALC) along with 40 other children in her home district of Mirzapur located in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. It is one amongst many such centres set up four years ago with UNICEF support to help educate children who have never been to school.
Over 20 per cent of India’s 12.66 million children working in hazardous occupations are from Uttar Pradesh. Most of the children work at odd jobs, in factories and in the carpet industry for meagre wages. But their labour plays a key role in supplementing their family income. One of the main reasons for the high prevalence of child labour in these areas is the burden of debt, which forces families to send their children to work. Low literacy rates further compound the problem.
Education essential to eliminating child labour
UNICEF addresses the issue of child labour through a combination of approaches including a focus on changing prevalent mindsets, forming self-help groups, improving the quality of mainstream education, providing transitional schools to return children to learning levels appropriate to their age.
But education is seen to play a crucial role in eliminating child labour. UNICEF’s approach therefore focuses on motivating communities to send girls and boys (who have never been to or who have dropped out of school) to alternative learning centres.
Assessments occur throughout this period. An examination is organised at the end of each class semester that lasts for six months while the final examination for Class V is conducted by the district education officer. All those who pass the exams are awarded a certificate which is key to getting admission in other schools recognised by the government.
The initiative funded by IKEA through UNICEF’s German National Committee has covered around 650 villages in two Around 200 alternative learning centres are currently functional. These help in reaching out to more than 7,000 children of whom 55 per cent are girls.districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Education has helped these children not only read and write but also provided them with a sense confidence and empowerment. Eight-year-old Laxmina who had until recently thought that the only work her community would ever do was weave carpets, now talks of wanting to be a doctor for her village -- a clear sign of change.
Organising women into self-help groups has also set off its own process of social transformation. It has helped wrench them out of a debt-poverty cycle since they no longer need to take loans at high interest rates.
Over 14,000 women from these 650 villages have saved more than Rs. 10 million. More than 50 per cent of this money is now circulating as loans in these villages. In one village, a woman succeeded in rescuing her son, who was taken away to work as bonded labour in exchange for her inability to pay back a small loan, with the help of these collective savings.
More children are now going to school instead of going to work, and women have learnt through their association with self-help groups crucial lessons that is helping them be far more self-reliant and informed than before.