MVF’s Programmes for Adolescent Children

MVF’s program for 14-18-year-olds addressed out-of-school adolescent children’s re-entry into formal education. Specifically, it made visible the challenges faced by girls through forced marriages and pressures operating at every sphere of life from the family, neighbours and community. In the face of such gendered obstacles to education for girls, MVF initiated its program with an explicit focus on girls between ages 14 – 18 enabling their exercise of agency to pursue higher education. MVF also galvanized support of the community and the various functionaries of the system to give girls the courage to access education. A consequence of this program was the impact it had on adolescent boys, enabling them to go to school as well.

In doing so, MVF viewed 14-18 year olds as adolescent children, as opposed to viewing them as young adults who are in a transitional phase to be prepared for adulthood. A view of ‘young adults’ promotes a policy towards skill-based or vocational training which can help adolescents generate an income, precluding them from pursuing higher education in mainstream schools. MVF found it imperative to question such an acceptance of vocational education in place of secondary education, and “oppose the adoption of relativist arguments prioritizing teen work over learning.” Instead, MVF’s view is that adolescent children have to be guaranteed their right to education until completion of secondary school.

Adolescent girls’ access to formal education is mediated by a range of factors in India including a paucity of schools at the secondary and senior secondary levels, no extension and support services for those who have dropped out, and lack of commitment to formal education in the form of law or policy. At this age, they are also entrenched into the informal workforce. Girls’ access is additionally restricted by social and cultural factors including control over their sexuality and their mobility

Seeking to build a universal principle on the right to education even for adolescents through a rights-based approach, the organization focused specifically on enrolling out-of-school adolescent children into formal education – either through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) or by enabling them, in various ways, to take Class 10 examinations. They also provided extension and support services to all children, allowing them to focus on preparing for examinations without the hassle of engaging with the school administration for numerous certificates and documents.

MVF’s Non Negotiable Principles for working with Adolescent Children

Over the past five years, MVF has been working towards a new strategy taking into consideration the complexity of gender relations in bringing about equal access to education for all children. In this period of time, MVF has evolved a set of non-negotiable principles for working with adolescent children in this context, which are:

  • All children must be in a full time school or any full time education stream until completion of 18 years.
  • Girls and boys must enjoy equal opportunities to pursue education and build their capabilities.
  • The discourse on gender equality must be introduced into the school curriculum from Class 1 onwards.
  • Presence in an educational institution should be a pre-condition for building awareness on reproductive health care, sex education and life skills for both boys and girls.
  • Arguments that control girls’ bodily integrity and deny them autonomy such as domestic work, distance to schools, lack of safety for girls, eve teasing, increases in dowry, sibling care, poverty, and pressure of marriage are unacceptable.
  • Youth clubs must be non-gender segregated, secular spaces where all members are equal, without distinctions of gender, caste, religion, disability or any other forms of discrimination.
  • No girl shall marry before attainment of 18 years of age. Child Marriage laws must be amended to nullify the marriage of all girls until 18 years of age.
  • Even after the age of 18 years, the girl’s decision and choice for her marriage has to be given full support.

MVF’s work with adolescent girls has been based on the belief that working on education alone does not bring about gender equality. Through these principles, MVF’s explicit focus is on making the right to education a political issue, resolving gender, caste and class-based conflicts locally through community action with the support of state functionaries.

To read the full report, click here.

Smt. Shantha Sinha interacting with adolescent girls