By Kaarika Das:
Despite ensuring free and compulsory education for every child under the age of 14, the sight of a ‘chotu’ promptly serving tea at a kiosk or a girl child involved in domestic service remains a daily affair. No, I am not condoning child labour, but the labyrinth of this debacle deserves more scrutiny. The issue isn’t as seemingly simple that it can be tackled just through banning child labour or providing compulsory education. In most cases, children are engaged in labour as the last resort because a family’s survival depends on it. For developing countries, the situation is more pronounced because unlike developed countries, the government cannot guarantee a minimum income based on family size. Thus, the children act as a social security and shoulder the responsibility of being an income source.
Although education can ensure that the future earnings of such children are higher, thus giving them a route to escape from their existing poverty, in order to allow youth emancipation requires that these future earnings be unlocked in the present. Moreover, depending on the personal circumstances of a child, it becomes difficult to avail educational opportunities while supporting a livelihood.
Even after enrolment, the current formal schooling model does little to incentivise children and their parents alike. The economic and social obstacles work in tandem to keep students in the labor force and out of schools. For instance, when child workers are introduced to schooling through external intervention, it is often the case that they are older than their peers. This makes initial school experience difficult for child labourers because of an underlying stigma which hampers their performance. Schooling soon becomes a negative experience as the classroom reinforces their inadequacy of meeting the expectations of formal schooling. This further augments resistance to education.
Another trait which I observed first hand while conducting a community intervention program called project ‘Yushaktikaran‘ under Esteem Youth Foundation at Sangam Vihar, Delhi, was a prevalent attitude shared by former child workers enrolled in schools – most of them cherished their ‘freedom’ over the authority of a formal schooling structure which commanded discipline. This made working preferable over attending schools.
These instances reflect the current inadequacy of formal schools to tackle the issue. The system lacks flexibility to accommodate and respond to the diverse needs of its students. Usually the conventional outrage regarding child labour is that they should be educated but the focus should be emphasised on imparting ‘relevant’ education – one that makes the educational system more suited towards the needs of youth workers by providing non-formal transitional education to create a bridge between work and school.
Transitional schools allow such children not only to catch up with their formal schooling but also take into consideration the special needs of child workers. Case in point being, ‘myME: Myanmar Mobile Education Project‘– a distinctive outreach program where child workers working in tea shops in Myanmar are provided with non-formal education via old buses that have been gutted and converted to mobile classrooms. Each child spends a minimum of two hours per day on the bus while the employers are compensated for the two hours. The staffs include a mentor, a full-time teacher and a driver.
What I am essentially vouching for, is the growing need for innovation in education, which can accommodate the needs of child labourers in order to ensure that the curriculum is adding to their economic value in the long run. Ultimately, it is the amalgamation of accurate information complimented by fair incentives which will combat child labour and allow them to break free from poverty.
Last year I had the chance of traveling to Oslo to attend the ‘Telenor Youth Summit 2015′ as well as the ‘Telenor Youth Forum Asia’ in Bangkok. Both these events gave me exposure and better understanding of how education can help emancipate child labour. By interacting with participants from 13 other countries from Europe and Asia, I got some meaningful insights and perspective on how the challenge is being dealt in other geographies and how we can contribute meaningfully to the cause. My project based on ‘educating young labourers’, essentially talks about how children who are forced to work to sustain their families lose out on opportunities for education and development in this process. The future course of this would depend a lot on how child or youth workers can be reached with innovative solutions such as mobile education programs in order to provide them with both education and a safe environment to gain self-confidence and critical thinking skills.
You can find out more about the Telenor Youth Forum here.