While MVF believes that ‘girls’ as a category face special problems, its general approach in dealing with these problems is not very different. Many studies that deal exclusively with girls identify the basic problems as:
● Girls have little experience of childhood and are treated as adults far too early
● Much of the work done by girls such as domestic chores are not even treated as work.
● Education is the best solution for the emancipation of girls and their empowerment.
But this is precisely what the MVF has advocated all along for all children irrespective of whether they are girls or boys. In fact the definition that all children outside formal school system are child labourers makes sure that girls working at homes are not ignored in any program dealing with child labour. Further, MVF has always advocated school and education as the only option for eliminating child labour. As a result girls have never been excluded from any aspect of MVF’s program. However, in terms of a program some additional elements become necessary especially since the age at marriage in the areas where MVF is working is around 12-14 years.
In the first place the program of motivating girls, especially the older ones, and their parents is a much more elaborately designed one. Short-term motivation camps at the village level are held where a lot of discussion takes place between the girls and the education activists and the more prominent members of the village level education committees. Other girls who have gone through the MVF program also occasionally visit these centres to motivate the girls through narration of their own experiences. The bridge camps designed for the girls are more elaborate and are of longer duration. This is not because they are slow learners when compared to boys but because it takes more time for them as well as their parents to get used to the idea. Special inputs in terms of health education are also given.
A major success of the MVF in this regard has been in relation to child marriages. A number of girls now see the MVF program as a means of getting away from an early marriage. To the MVF, marriage as an aspect that keeps a girl of school going age away from school, presents itself as a symbol of child labour. As a result preventing child marriages is well within its agenda of eliminating all forms of child labour. This is exactly how it is put forth before all the community-based committees at the village level, which have been formed in consequence of the program. Thus at some stage or other this issue comes up for discussion in these fora. This represents a major step forward because an issue that has hitherto been perceived as an intensely private one now becomes subject to more open discussion in a neutral forum.
To the girl child the schools, as well as the various village level committees against child labour provide, for the first time, a forum to represent her problems in relation to marriage. This contrasts sharply with the normal situation in which, despite the promulgation of an act, which prescribes 18 years as the minimum age at marriage for girls, the only remedy available to any girl who wants the act enforced is to approach either the police station or the courts. In the MVF experience as the child labour elimination program has progressed more and more girls have begun defying their parents and asserting their right to continue with their education.