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An Open Letter: “Educating The Girl-Child Can Uplift An Entire Village”

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To,

The Women and Child Development Department,

3rd floor, New administrative building
Madam Cama road,
Hutatma Rajguru Chowk,
Mumbai – 400032,
Maharashtra, India.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’m a child rights activist who has been active in the field for the last decade, in Maharashtra. I have a bachelor’s degree in law, a post graduate diploma in child counselling and I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree in Education. I plan to become a gender studies teacher someday.

However, I can’t help but wonder, will there be any children left to teach? I’m looking for an innovative, simple and practical way to keep children in school during the pandemic.

Did you know that since 2019 nearly 1.5 million Indian schools have been shut down… That 30 million children have no access to online learning? Only 24% children from urban areas and only 8% from rural areas are studying regularly.

Children have been set back by three years in their education. Children are in danger of losing their reading and writing abilities.

Did you know that it is estimated that 10 million girls will never go back to school? As you are well aware, if our children do not go back to school, they are at risk of being recruited into child labour, victimised by child abuse or forced into child marriage.

Under Article 21 A of the Indian constitution, education is a fundamental right of every child. The government has a duty to ensure free and compulsory education to children between the ages of 6-14 under the Right To Education (RTE) Act of 2009.

Furthermore, the RTE has been recognised as a human right under Article 26 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. It has also been adopted, under Goal #4, as a global sustainable development goal for 2030, by the UN.

I know that as the women and child development department of Maharashtra, you are as concerned as I am about school dropout rates, low literacy levels, waste of human resource and the generation of lost children.

To this end, I believe I may have found a sustainable grassroots-level programme to ensure the education of children.

Let me tell you a story.

In 1993, a woman from Wales called Ann Cotton founded “Camfed”. She set out to a small village called Mola, in Zimbabwe, Africa, to survey the local schools. She found that the education crisis there was precipitated by factors like poverty, not culture.

Parents were ready to send their children to school but could not afford to buy school books or pay school fees; and tended to give preference to their sons over their daughters because at least their sons could complete their education and get a job afterwards.

So, Cotton spoke to the villagers and asked them if they’d be willing to send their children to school if she was willing to pay the bills. They were. And so began the campaign for female education.

The plan was simple: she raised funds so she could send children to school, as long as their families pledged their support to ensure that their child would attend school faithfully.

For Camfed, support for a child typically begins when she is in elementary school. Then, when the student graduates to primary school, Camfed offers a full package which includes uniforms and shoes, if necessary.

In high school, Camfed provides free sanitary napkins and underwear; and even arranges for local transportation and boarding/lodging if the girls live too far from their school.

Representational image. Photo credit: CAMFED, Facebook.

After high school, Camfed supports the girls through college by helping them get scholarships or starting a business or learning professional skills like teaching or nursing.

What is more, Camfed alumni then go on to form their own networks and support other young girls. Once they get married, they tend to practice family planning and have fewer children. They promote adult literacy and child education. They become role models in their communities.

This is a classic example of girl-child education uplifting the entire village. Today, Camfed is a pan-African education programme and has been hailed as one of the most successful of its kind, in the world.

The corollary to this incredible story is, if it’s possible in Africa, then it is possible in India. To start with, can we try this out in a few districts of rural Maharashtra?

Let’s say the women and child development department promotes an initiative where it incentivises online education.

Parents are given monthly funds to pay school fees, buy school books, stationery, smartphones or tablets, internet packs, mid-day meals or rations, medical check ups, vaccination shots—whatever essentials are deemed appropriate for a support package… Anything that ensures that the parents don’t lose faith in the system.

I know that it sounds like we are paying parents to keep their children in school, but do we really have a choice? As you can imagine, with a little bit of investment in the future of our children, the returns will be abundant for our state.

Furthermore, what is needed for the mobilisation of the public? Fundraising? Donations? Social media? Promotion? Publicity? Awareness drives? Celebrity sponsors? Backing from UNICEF/UNESCO/Save The Children? What can we do to assist your department should you choose to implement this grassroots-level educational support programme?

I know that you are busy and I have taken up enough of your time. I’m just a concerned citizen who worries about the future of our children. I’m glad to have had this opportunity to write to you and to have made your acquaintance.

Please do let me know if you ever decide to take up this suggestion and move forward with this idea.

Sincerely,

Abha Thapliyal

Child rights activist, Education advocate, Consultant on Gender

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Pxfuel.
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