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Vocational training lifts adolescents out of poverty in Uttar Pradesh, India

© UNICEF/India/2010/ Hellen
Noorjahan Khan, 18, outside her family home in the city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, India. She works as an office assistant and helps support her family.

'The State of the World's Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,' UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents' fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.

By Angela Walker

MORADABAD, India, 10 March 2011 – There were times when Noorjahan Khan’s family didn’t eat for three days at a time.

Her father, Bhurelal Mansoori, sold his family’s small plot of land to move to the industrial city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh in search of a better life for his family.

He earns 50 to 60 rupees a day (about $1.20) as a labourer, often not enough to feed Noorjahan, 18, and her six siblings. Some days Mr. Khan can’t find work.

A joint Aide et Action-UNICEF effort to enhance employment opportunities for marginalised youth through skills development and livelihood education is now changing Noorjahan and her family’s lives.

Skills development

Noorjahan – who was forced to drop out of school after class eight – and her siblings have been attending community mobilization meetings at the iLEAD vocational institute.

Funding for the training is provided by IKEA Social Initiative – the international furniture company’s philanthropic wing – which began supporting child rights work in 100 ‘mohallas’, or slums, in Moradabad in 2009. The vocational project is part of a holistic programme reaching out to 65,000 children and young people, as well as 50,000 women.  

Out of each class of about 100 young people, between 60 and 70 of them complete the course and find employment. Each candidate is given an aptitude test to judge whether they would best fit in the service, computing or welding sectors.

Noorjahan stood out from the crowd immediately. “I saw a will in her that she wanted to do something,” says Mahesh Chandra, her teacher. “She herself came up and said, ‘I want to study further – how can you help me do that?’”

Gender disparity

The Khan family lives in one of the mohallas that dot the city of Moradabad. Nearly half of the population live below the poverty line. Their home doesn’t have electricity or toilet facilities.

© UNICEF/India/2010/ Hellen
Noorjahan Khan, 18, at her work place in the city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, India. Girls' education is often viewed as an economic burden by families.

Getting an education India is particularly difficult for girls, who are often viewed as an economic burden by their families. A girl is considered ‘paraya dhan’ or property of the family into which she will marry. As a result, girls’ education is often not valued as it is seen as an investment whose returns will be reaped by another family.

“If a family has limited resources, the priority is on the boys,” explains UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Uttar Pradesh Nupur Pande. “They won’t mind paying for a boy’s fees. But they will mind paying for a girl’s doctor’s fees. There is major discrimination against girls.”

Noorjahan now works as an office assistant, and is proud to earn her own income of 2,000 rupees (about $44). She still has to cope, however, with constant taunts from her male neighbours on her way to work.

Beating the odds

“The neighbours who are living around here make my life miserable when I am going out of the house,” Noorjahan says. “It hurts me, but I know who I am and I will continue to go out and work.”

She adds: “I want to help my father all my life. The kind of life I am living gives me the courage to continue.”

The amount Noorjahan makes will help lift her family out of abject poverty and while her father is protective, he already sees the economic and personal benefits.

“Being a girl I always worry about her,” he says. “But I thought if she goes out, she can be a support to the family and she’ll be able to stand on her feet.”

Chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh field office Adele Khudr believes that empowering women and adolescents in these communities will ultimately bring about lasting behavioural change, once families begin thriving rather than just surviving.



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