Meet the Stakeholders

Children become conscious of the world around them at the age of 3 or 4. Their understanding of the world at large is shaped by the society they interact with – in this case, their village. They have no awareness of Child Rights and simply do not know of any alternative to what they witness, making them easy to manipulate and exploit.

The Challenges

1. Realigning Thought Process: MVF’s biggest responsibility is to realign the thought processes of the children. Many of them find the concept of going to school foreign and invasive as working is the norm. For the MVF volunteers, penetrating these belief systems has always been the first step towards revolution.

2. Lack of Motivation: Many children are simply not interested in going to school as they have become accustomed to their carefree lifestyle.

The Solution

1. Motivation Centre: MVF has established Motivation Centres which run in the morning from 7 AM – 9 AM. Children are taught to read and write and about their Rights. The Motivation Centre is shut down when all the children have been withdrawn from work and enrolled in schools.

2. Short-Term Camps: They conduct short term camps for 3 days to help self-motivate children as well as gain support from parents.

3. Bridge Courses: MVF establishes Bridge Courses to help older children learn in their local schools without having to join a residential camp. This results in designing and planning for the progress of every child and empowers teachers in the process.

4. Public Discourse: The volunteers also hold public rallies, street plays and other such events to spread the message to the children. These events are interactive to ensure that there is a free flow of ideas.

The Result

MVF’s work in villages has been mostly successful, with numerous children freed from bonded labour and enrolled in school. The next step is retention, which is a much bigger challenge. With the current inadequacies of resources in schools, it is often very difficult to convince a child to return. The Youth Volunteers have taken a very proactive approach to this issue – they keep track of attendance and contact the families in case of prolong absenteeism to ensure that students return to school.

The issue of child labour is not black and white, as many perceive it to be. Shades of grey make it a difficult topic to approach for all the stakeholders involved. The employers of child labour are perhaps the biggest stakeholders on the list as one can easily argue that child labour would not exist if not for them. Bonded labour has become a mainstay of many villages in rural areas. Families in desperate situations often approach employers to accept the services of their children in the hope of eking out a living.

The Challenges

1. Conditioning: Child labour employers are often painted as black-hearted villains who terrorize the child’s family; this is hardly the reality of the situation. Several employers only continue to employ child labour because they have been conditioned by their society to believe it is alright, even helpful to the family of the child.

2. Economics: The economics of child labour is simple – higher efficiency at a cheaper rate. At times, children are not paid wages at all and are instead paid by way of clothes and meals.

The Solution

1. Legal Ramifications: MVF collaborates with the Gram Panchayat to eradicate child labour. The members of the Panchayat warn employers about various Child Labour Acts. This approach has been very effective so far.

2. Discussion with Parents: Many a time, it is parents who make the decision to make their children bonded labourers. MVF volunteers patiently guide parents through the importance of education and instruct them on basic Child Rights in order to help them understand the consequences of their actions.

3. Public Discourse: MVF volunteers conduct rallies, hold meetings, use street plays and so on to grab the attention of employers and parents and change their mindsets.

The Result

A huge change was noticed in the mindsets of the employers after the arrival of the MVF volunteers. They were influenced both by the change in thinking in their surroundings as well as the fresh perspective provided to them about Child Rights. Many former child labour employers have currently joined hands with the local institutions to eradicate child labour and promote universalisation of education.

Good governance is the cornerstone of a prosperous democracy. Individuals are elected on the basis of their merit and their potential to change society for the better. In the words of Frank Herbert, “Good governance never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern.”

The influence of governing bodies can be felt intensely in smaller areas, like villages. The advocacy of Gram Panchayats, the governing bodies in villages, is a great ally in endeavours in rural areas. The Gram Panchayat’s involvement and participation in MVF’s programs often significantly increases legitimacy within the village as it can act as a mediator between the locals and the Foundation.

The Solution

1. Sensitization: The first step to solving a problem is identifying it. Upon arrival, MVF first sensitizes the members of the Gram Panchayat on various crucial issues, such as:

● Child Labour Laws
● Budget Allocation for Children
● Formation of Specialized Sub-Committees

2. Capacity Building: In many villages, the issue of Childs Rights is broached for the first time. This means the authorities who are now entrusted with the responsibility of Child Rights Protection are not equipped with the skills necessary to do so. MVF works with the members of the ward and the sub-committees to build their capacities to take decisions evaluate schools and design an annual plan for the school.

3. Hands-On Approach: With the help of MVF’s support and training, the Gram Panchayat members have begun to carry out the following activities to abolish child labour and promote universalisation of education:

● Survey of school going and non-school going children
● Door-to-door motivation drives
● Campaigning against child marriage
● Quarterly review of schools
● Identification and resolution of administrative bottlenecks in schools
● Introduction of reforms in school system to prevent dropouts
● Mobilize financial support for schools

The Result

Prior to MVF’s arrival at the village, many ward members had little to no role in the functioning of the local body. Now, they formulate policies and interact with the forums and committees set up in the village. The members of the local body appreciate their status as elected representative due to their participation in the process of protection of Child Rights, projecting public interest as the Gram Panchayat.

The influence of parents in a child’s life, especially in the formative years, is immeasurable. The decisions parents make at this juncture will continue to have an impact well into their child’s adulthood. Parents, quite literally, shape their child’s future.

Twenty years from now, it is our children who will run the country. In this context, it is easy to understand the importance of child education. However, in many parts of rural India, a number of parents choose to deny their children even basic schooling. Contrary to popular belief, the motivator is not purely economic.

The Challenges

With its two decades’ worth of experience in combating child labour, MVF was able to ascertain the reasons why parents of comparatively well-to-do households are reluctant to send their children to school.

1. The Vicious Cycle of Illiteracy: Tradition plays a major role in Indian households, especially in rural areas. There are several cases of families taking pride in (and perpetuating) their tradition of illiteracy. As the parents are illiterate themselves, they have very little awareness of the importance of a child’s education.

2. Unfamiliarity: Poorer parents are often unfamiliar with the concepts of basic education, the rules of examination, attendance and so on. They are also easily intimidated by the school’s demand for various documents, such as income certificates, birth certificates and caste certificates. More often than not, the parents’ inability to deal with the institution has resulted in children dropping out of schools.

3. Access: Parents often have difficulty adapting to the process of primary education and finding reliable schools for their children.

The Solution

MVF’s core purpose is to transform child labourers into students and get them to mainstream schools. It fulfils its purpose by identifying the hurdles in their path and resolving them, one by one.

1. Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Illiteracy: First and foremost, MVF brings awareness to parents about the importance of education. They assist parents in making an informed decision about their child’s future. By breaking the tradition of illiteracy, they pave the way for generations of educated children.

2. Establishment of Parents Committees: MVF keeps parents in the loop and committed to child education by way of a Parents Committee. MVF and the Parents Committee work in partnership with other bodies, such as the Gram Panchayat and the School Education Committee, to improve the infrastructure of existing schools. By including mothers in the Parents Committee, MVF has made considerable progress in increasing enrolment of girl children.

3. Providing Access: To tackle the issue of access, MVF has worked towards establishing a safe mode of transport to schools in other villages. This has assuaged parents’ fears, and, subsequently, resulted in an increase in the number of school-going children.

The Result

The support that is now extended to the programme by parents is remarkable. Many families have begun to voluntarily send their children to schools.

A report says:

The transformation seen in parents from opposition to support for child rights is probably the most dramatic in MVF’s programs. This transformation resulted in a strong Parents Committee. Many parents of past child labourers are now involved in the parents committee, CRPF and/ or the SEC. The parents committee works alongside the Youth Group and the SEC to monitor the school, take attendance of school going children and put pressure on the government to improve the school system.

Parents can also contribute in various other ways to the school such as: shraddha, organizing cultural events/ festivals/ sporting activities, organizing health camps, working as teachers’ assistants, aiding in the distribution of books and other learning materials, motivating other parents to enrol their children or to participate in school functions, overseeing mid day meals, monitoring teachers’ attendance/ quality of education/ interaction with students, practical training, transportation and helping with other day to day issues.

The presence of a school facilitates the establishment of a primary education system in society.

The Challenges

1. Lack of Resources: The biggest roadblock with regards to schools has been the almost notorious lack of resources and poor infrastructure.

2. Teachers Lack Dedication: One SEC’s evaluation of a school revealed that a few teachers were frequently absent and did not take their work seriously. If teachers do not attach due importance to education, how will their students?

The Solution

1. Revitalizing Schools: MVF has never believed in establishing a new and parallel education system, as it would be difficult to sustain when the volunteers depart. Instead, they work on revitalising existing schools with the help of institutions such as social welfare hostels and Gram Panchayats.

The philosophy behind this belief is two-fold. Firstly, they believe that the government, even though inadequate at times, should be the sole provider of education. Secondly, MVF realizes that in order to be truly sustainable, the program must involve all sections of the community and create partnerships with the existing institutions.

These grassroots linkages are what MVF’s foundation is built on. Lately, MVF has increased its strategies in working directly with the schools and the government.

2. Reviving School Education Committees: MVF works to revive inactive School Education Committees. These committees act as an important link between school, community and the government. The SEC’s official responsibility is to ensure school accountability and lobby the government for needed improvements.

One such incident is cited below:

“The School Education Committee (SEC) in Basireddipally Village, Pargi Mandal in Ranga Reddy District has played an active role in promoting the concept of education in the village. When it was discovered that many students at the school were irregular in attendance, the SEC and the Gram Panchayat took action and organized a meeting with parents.

The SEC also monitored the school regularly to check on the teachers’ attendance and the quality of education provided. Two government teachers, who were found to be frequently absent were warned in a meeting to take their responsibilities more seriously.”

The Result

Schools have become public places available for community scrutiny, making it possible to address all the other rights of children, such as the Right to Health, Right to Nutrition, Right to Protection and Development and so on.

MVF has initiated several strategies such as Residential Bridge Camps (RBCs), motivational camps, short-term camps etc. to bridge the gap between the workplace environment that the children have been exposed to and a formal school environment. MVF has also ensured that children who are withdrawn are able to match the learning level of their peers in the schools.

The power of the youth cannot be underestimated. Their strength lies in their innovative thought as well as their resolution to drive change. In order to harness this immense potential, MVF came up with the idea of inclusion of a village youth group.

The first challenges for MVF upon arriving at a village are:

● Mobilizing children to go to school
● Enlightening parents and employers about the importance of education

The Role

The inclusion of village youth groups into the program has been met with tremendous approval. The village youth perform a number of tasks in coordination with MVF in order to promote universalisation of education and abolition of child labour.

1. Surveys: The youth volunteers conduct door-to-door surveys on school going and non-school going children in the village simultaneously spreading awareness about MVF’s campaign. The purpose of survey is to identify every child out of school. It is also a way of establishing contacts with potential partners in the village. The youth are reminded that the survey is much more than mere numbers – it is about the life of every single child in the village.

2. Padayatra: A major activity taken up by the youth volunteers are the public marches or ‘padayatras’. These marches are conducted from one village to another be it rain or shine. Every day, the youth walk 12 – 15 kilometers singing songs and talking to passers-by about their message: ‘child labour will no longer be tolerated’.

Upon arriving at a village, they establish contact with influential persons and organize a public meeting. During the course of the day, they quickly assess the profile of the children, the school going and non-going children, make a list of bonded labourers and their employers and girls who are engaged to be married. All of this is then discussed in the public meeting.

3. Girls Youth Groups: A more recent development has been the formation of Girl Youth Groups. Youth groups, while powerful, are composed mostly of men. Girls were not allowed to join due to village culture.

In 2002, MVF called a meeting of girls in Class 10 in Shankarpally Mandal to discuss child marriage, discontinuation of education by girls and gender-specific health issues. MVF encouraged them to get involved in confronting these issues as they were not given enough importance by the existing youth groups. This led to the formation of Girl Youth Groups, which focus on addressing the problems faced by the girl child.

The Result

A number of parents have been impressed by the tenacity and politeness of the youth volunteers, who address difficult topics in a respectful manner. These parents have enrolled their children in schools and have made a commitment to their education.