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Child labour in India is a chronic problem; an NGO, APSA in Bangalore is tackling it with a multi-pronged approach.
By Kalpana Aravamuthu
This article was originally published at The Alternative – an online publication on social change and sustainable living.
The causes for child labour are many – familial (poverty, unemployment, dysfunctional families), social (lack of infrastructure), the educational system itself (irrelevant). Trying to fight child labour is like being Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata war. You cut down one enemy, and another pops up. The magnitude of the problem (as per UNICEF, one in six children worldwide is a child labourer) may seem overwhelming.
APSA – the Association for Promoting Social Action is one organization that has, over the years, learnt to fight this hydra-headed enemy. APSA’s experience shows that if you work in a decentralized fashion with pockets of people and a deep understanding of local issues, you can tackle it.
Mr. Lakshapathy, Executive Director of APSA, started the organization with like-minded people in 1981 to bridge the gap between the government’s poverty alleviation programs and the poor. He says that if you talk to the labour department, they will lay out the statistics – children rescued, employers fined, and compensation collected. However, if you review the children’s situation, you may find that they are back in the labour market. He feels that the government’s ‘raid and rescue’ approach is superficial and fails to make any dent on the problem because it is defined at a very macro level.
…the government’s ‘raid and rescue’ approach is superficial and fails to make any dent on the problem because it is defined at a very macro level.
He says that the community has to take the onus at every level – at the 3-6 anganwadi stage, 6-14 years, and above 14 years level, and work with the education system to ensure 100% enrolment. Nagaraj and Sreeram, cousins from a family that makes its living selling brooms and stickers, are proof that this approach works. When they came to APSA, they were 10 years old and would write their names backwards. Through APSA’s help, they enrolled in their NCLP (National Child Labour Project) program, completed their 10th grade, their 2nd PUC, and are in college now. They are still in touch with their teachers, who have been rooting for them for over the course of nearly 10 years.
A Class In Session At Dream School
APSA has a hostel called Namma Mane located in L.B. Sastry Nagar, a few kilometres from the Vimanapura post office. Rescued or potential child labourers stay here while being primed for the mainstream education system.
Next to Namma Mane is a school called Dream School. Dream School is well named – coming upon the beautifully built school after walking through a mini-concrete jungle can make you feel that you are in a dream, where unexpected and magical things can happen. In Dream School, the bridge programs cater to the groups defined by background and need:
a) NCLP group – dropouts aged 10-14
b) Groups for children taking exams for specific grades – 7th and 10th
d) Crisis intervention – for those rescued through the helpline and needing help before getting into any of the other classes
d) Day care for younger siblings (especially of migrant children).
The clear charter for these groups is to help children get back into the mainstream education system and to provide support all the way till college. Some of the children come from nearby slums and some through the 1098 helpline. APSA also conducts screen printing, electronics, and computer courses at their vocational training centre. A placement service is also available.
Drop-In Centre of APSA, Bangalore
The drop-in centre, in the upper floor of a 2-floor house located in a narrow lane in Koramangala, is another example of APSA’s methodology.
A group of girls are seated around a table, scribbling in their notebooks, and occasionally talking in low voices. Two girls are carefully unravelling wool and looping it around 2 metal chairs – it is a beehive of quiet, feminine activity. The girls are shy and giggle, but there is no masking their quiet determination to study further.
Shanta who teaches at the centre, says, “All the girls who come here go to work, mostly as domestic help. Most are around 18 years old. We do a survey and bring in the girls who are interested in continuing their education. The other teacher Sunanda teaches life skills and personality development and a few others come in part-time to tutor the girls. These girls are preparing for the Karnataka Open School 10th exam.”
The girls are very interested in personality development aspects – handling emotions, and want to know how to prepare for an interview, how to project a confident body language, and how to make people respect them. They are taught to draw up budgets, to take care of themselves, and to conduct themselves appropriately in an office. Shanta recalls the story of a girl who moved from being the domestic help in an office to being regular staff, after enrolling in a computer course conducted by the APSA program. The drop-in centre provides a space for these girls to vent, recoup and sometimes, find a way out of their poverty.
Self help groups
Self help groups, or SHGs have also played a very good role in chipping away at poverty. SHGs, consisting of groups of about 20 women, have demonstrated that the poor are bankable: after due diligence, banks (for e.g., Canara Bank) let them open an account of their pooled-in savings. Manjula, SHG coordinator for east and north Bangalore, who has been with APSA for 15 years, says that their SHGs also resolve issues like domestic violence, take up women’s rights, and work with the slum federation. The trump card: the 450 SHGs started by APSA are now all free of child labour.
Working with advocacy groups and the government to bring about policy changes, fighting for housing and land rights, educating the slum dwellers about the pitfalls of having a short-term gain approach to the labour market are some of the other small steps taken by APSA in the giant battle against child labour. Unlike Abhimanyu, who was left to fight his battle alone, this battle is fought by a band of dedicated foot-soldiers.
Ph: +91 80 25232749
*Featured image & Dream school credit: APSA.
*Drop-in Centre credit: Kalpana.
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