The MVF program concentrates essentially on the positives. It is based on the belief that parents, even poor parents, are not only keen on sending their children to school but are also capable of doing so. It is also based on the belief that, in the context of eliminating child labour, formal day schools are not only relevant but, in the present context, the only institution capable of keeping children away from work. In order to make sure that this is at no stage forgotten it has evolved a set of guiding principles referred to as the ‘non-negotiables’ on which there is no compromise.
Since the program essentially deals with developing a norm on the child labour issue the first component is aimed at generating a discussion on the issue. To this end a survey of all children out of school is conducted in each village. In the initial stages MVF had to depend on its own staff to commence this process. However, the general tendency now is for the villagers, in particular the youth segment, to conduct the survey and hold all preliminary discussions before inviting assistance from MVF.
Usually, this is preceded by the formation of a formal committee of interested individuals. The main purpose of the discussion is to check the village’s level of preparation to tackle the issue. Over several meetings the need to withdraw children from the labour force, the people who need to be involved in the process, the role of the village elders including elected non-officials, the role of the school and the school teacher are all discussed. Ultimately this leads to preparation of a plan of action with the assistance of MVF.
The plan of action invariably has two basic elements. The first is that it targets all children out of school and not just some sections of the child population. Secondly specific duties and tasks are allocated to all the committee members. This typically includes co-ordination with the school, conduct of community level meetings, discussions with employers of children, lobbying with the officials and non-officials for better facilities at the school. The entire list of all children out of school is prepared and the plan of action covers each one of them. MVF usually assists at this level.
The main problem encountered at this stage at the school level is lack of adequate number of teachers. Further there is a need to monitor all those children freshly enrolled after being withdrawn from work. While the committee is encouraged to lobby for more teachers, in order to set the plan in motion one or two village level education activists are appointed. The normal pattern is that the community and MVF do this on a 50:50 basis. The activists are usually first generation literate youth who combine the task of supplementing the teaching force at the school level and the monitoring of attendance of the children right down to the household level.
The work of the activist however commences even before the children are enrolled in school. Very often they are the motivators as well and are actively involved in the task of withdrawing the children from work. The training for this is provided by the MVF, which draws in its experience in other villages for this purpose. The activists also play a key role in identifying which of the children can be enrolled directly into school and which have to go through a longer process. In general the marginally older children in the 8-11 years bracket are put through a bridge course that is either residential (camp) or conducted at the school level directly. The bridge courses are meant to provide accelerated learning to the child so that he need not necessarily have to start from the lowest class. In case of the children in the 12-14 age group, emphasis is on putting them through a longer residential course for 18-24 months and making them appear for the 7th class examination directly.
At each level there a number of issues to be tackled. Parents and children have to be counseled and teachers sensitized, funds organised, officials petitioned, employers dealt with and so on. All these aspects are covered under the program through a series of campaigns, which includes processions by youth, street-plays by children and interactive sessions with the community. Briefly stated the MVF program has the following components:
● The basic principles are clearly spelt out.
● Thereafter the effort is to generate a consensus on a norm that children should not work.
● For this purpose community based organisations are set up and discussions held.
● Once there is a general agreement these organisations identify strategies to be adopted
● From this a plan of action including monitoring is evolved to cover all working children in the village.
● Different strategies are evolved for different age groups.
● In this process all the institutions which need to be accessed are also identified. In particular the role of the school in the process is highlighted.
● This in turn leads to evolving strategies to strengthen these institutions.
● All these aspects are set in motion simultaneously and are in operation continuously.
● A mechanism is set up, usually in the form of a committee, which at each stage reviews the progress and acts as a forum to deal with any issue affecting the withdrawal of child from the labour force.