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Why Simply Sending Children To School Won’t Help Tackle Child Labour

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.

For representation only. Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty
For representation only. Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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