New Lease of Life

 

Imran was a rag picker before he was picked up by the Vellore District Collector a few years ago. Now, Imran is in a foreign country working in a restaurant. Imran is one among thousands of children who have been rescued from the child labour system, and rehabilitated under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP).

Like Imran, there are 170 children who are being rehabilitated by NLCP school at Konavattam, one of the 22 village Panchayats situated along the national highway (NH-46), at North Vellore District, Tamil Nadu.

A visit to this rehabilitation school informed us that the number of child labour and bonded child labour cases has come down from 15,421 in 1995 to 1,330 in 2007.

“Vellore is the only district in India which has taken severe action against the child labour system, punishing industries and establishments with fines and sealing factories forever.So far 69 establishments in and around Vellore district has been sealed, and the District Collectorate has collected more than Rs. 15 lakh as penalties from establishments who had engaged child labour. There are 69 special schools located between Arakkonam and Tirupattur in Vellore district who are rehabilitating children affected by the child labour and bonded labour system. In Tamil Nadu alone, there are 17 districts which are implementing the NCLP Programme,” says K.Rajapandian, Project Director, Child Labour Relief Project in Vellore.

After speaking to D. Kanyakumari, a teacher and S. Kalaiarasan, Clerk, we found that most of the children were rescued from beedi factories and some from butcher shops, tea shops, and fast food outlets. “These children are sent by their parents to the beedi factories and other places of work to earn. We rescue them with the help of Child Labour Project Officers, Village Head, and Panchayat leaders,” says Kanyakumari.

The NCLP School rehabilitates children aged between 9 to 14 years of age, and later admits them in mainstream schools for further education.

When we ask Kanyakumari how they ensure that the children do not revert to child labour after being rehabilitated, she says:  “We make sure that the culprits—those who employ children—pay an amount of Rs. 20,000 as fine. We also make sure that the establishments that are engaged in such violations are closed for an indefinite period.”

The teachers put in extra effort to educate these children as they find it very difficult to study. “To teach these children is an uphill task as they come here beyond the ideal age limit and they don’t adapt themselves to the new environment. We start teaching them from the basics and follow Activity based learning (ABL). The Central Government schools that function under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) has classes from 1 to 5 with no sub sections, and all students share in one common class room”, says Kanyakumari.

The teachers distinguish the classes based on students’ current skills and learning abilities. They take three months to analyse the aptitude of the students, after which  the student’s learning schedule is prepared.

The Government provides free uniforms, books, and note books. Food is being provided under the mid-day meal scheme by the state government. The government pays a monthly stipend of Rs.100 to the parents of the students to encourage them to send their children regularly to school. This amount is deposited in a bank account for a period of three years, and disbursed to the parents at the end of every year. Apart from these schemes, the government also financially supports children who aspire to study further.

A sum of Rs. 25, 000 (Rs. 20, 000 collected as fine from the violating establishment and Rs.5,000 funded by the government) is deposited in the name of the student in a Nationalised Bank. This fund remains in the bank until the student completes his higher studies, and the interest earned from this amount is utilised by the student for his educational expenses.

In addition to this, students are provided with an educational loan to pursue their education in Colleges/Universities. There are 34 students who have successfully completed their schooling at NCLP and are presently pursuing their studies in engineering colleges and polytechnic institutes.

There are many such success stories from this school in Konavattam. The story of Imran is one among them.  While few students continue their higher studies, some seek employment in metropolitan cities such as Chennai and Bangalore, or go abroad to earn a regular income.

We don’t know whether the Central Government’s ‘Education for All’ is a huge success in India, but it seems to be a huge success in Tamil Nadu. Vellore stands as an epitome to this success.

However, another Child Labour Relief  Project Extension Centre known as Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) which also rehabilitates children rescued from child labour and bonded labour system say: “These children are educationally rehabilitated, but due to years of working in the beedi factories and exposed to hazards of rolling beedis, they have their health affected and show symptoms of diseases and illness which are typical to people working in beedi factories.”

—Ramesh.S

Asian College of Journalism