India

Programme returns child metalworkers to school

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF India/2011
Anas Mohammed, 11, (centre) sits with his mother, Suraiya, and his sister Mantasha, 10. Thanks to an innovative community-engaging programme, Anas is now in school.

MORADABAD, India, 7 December 2011 – At 6 a.m. each morning, 9-year-old Anas Mohammed began his shift at a tiny metalware workshop in the slums of Moradabad. There, he worked inches from a white-hot pit of molten metal.

“It was hot, it was hard to breathe, and the foreman often cursed me,” Anas recalled.

He and the other metalworkers laboured – barefoot and barefaced – under a mist of metallic dust that clung to their hair and skin. By day’s end, they resembled an army of tin men.

Getting around child labour laws

Anas was one of an estimated 8,000 out-of-school children in Moradabad, which produces most of India’s metalware exports. Many such children work in the city’s metalware shops, labouring in unsafe conditions.

“My father lost his job as a rickshaw driver, so I had to leave school and work,” Anas said.

Although child labour is illegal, factories often outsource work to informal, family-run workshops, where it is more difficult to enforce the law.

Finding a job was no trouble for Anas, who helped make metal vases, candle stands, picture frames and other items for retailers around the world. He earned 120 rupees (about US$2.45), for a 40-hour work week – less than half what an adult would earn for the same job.

Helping parents help their children

Since 2009, a citywide project funded by the IKEA Foundation has sought to identify working children and help put them back in school. Through local UNICEF partners, the programme helps communities understand and identify problems, such as out-of-school children, and then work to address them. It also works with the government to improve education quality.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF India/2011
A metal worker pours red-hot brass into a mould at a workshop like that where Anas worked.

The project has organized nearly 100 women’s groups, rallied the city’s religious leaders to support education, and opened two vocational training centres for older children to help take the financial pressure off their school-age siblings.

As a result, thousands of children have now been brought back to the classroom.

Anas, too, was brought back to school through this programme. He was identified during a house-to-house survey conducted by Ankur Yuva Chetna Shivir, a local UNICEF partner organization. A facilitator spoke to Anas’s parents and helped them enrol Anas in a free government school nearby.

UNICEF is engaged in state-wide efforts as well, working with the Uttar Pradesh State Government to guarantee all children between ages 6 and 14 the right to a free primary education.

Delivering a message

Anas, now 11, now helps raise awareness about the importance of education for all.

He and other children performed a community play about a tea stall owner who forces his young daughter to run the family business. At the end of the play, Anas and his fellow actors turned to the audience.

“Please promise us that you will let your children study,” they said. “It’s like an insurance policy. Pay now and you’ll reap great rewards in 10 or 15 years.”

There was an uneasy silence, and then one man stepped forward to commit to the children’s plea, drawing applause from the community.

Anas’s mother, Suraiya, has also embraced this message. “We felt really guilty making him work but had little choice at the time,” she said.

But after Anas’s first day back at school, “we were very happy. His face lit up,” she said. “We only want our children to prosper.”


 

 

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