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What kind of investment is required?

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The basic unit of administration above the village level in A.P is the Mandal, which covers a population of around 35-40 thousands. In each Mandal on an average there are 5000 children of school going age (5-14 yrs) in school and 5000 out of school.

In MVF’s experience the cost of sending 5000 children to school over a 5-year period and retaining them there is around Rs.40 lakhs per year or Rs.200 lakhs over a period of 5 years. This works out to Rs.800 per year per child. The total cost of covering all the roughly 1200 Mandals would therefore be Rs.2400 crores.

This does not include the cost of setting up new schools and providing additional teachers, which will have to be borne by the government. It however covers all costs of mobilisation including education volunteers.

The above costing also does not take into account the fact that once a critical mass of children is covered all over the state it may not be necessary to indulge in such intensive mobilization. The costs therefore, once a critical point is reached, are likely to be much less.

To what extent is the MVF model scalable in the context of Andhra Pradesh?

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To a large extent the scalability arises out of its replicability.

Any large-scale implementation of the model has to be undertaken by involving the government and the fact that the program does not involve any parallel structures helps in its scalability. More important the project in effect implements an idea that has strong roots in the state government’s social welfare policy. Right from the early 60’s the government has been implementing a program of running social welfare hostels. The main purpose of these hostels that mainly cater to children belonging to SC, ST and BC communities is to provide an atmosphere more congenial to the continuation of their studies than the one provided in their households.

Each hostel is provided with a warden who also functions as a tutor while the students are all attached to the nearest school during the daytime. As a model this is distinctly similar to the nearest school during the daytime. As a model this is distinctly similar to the one adopted by the MVF of providing a bridge between the household and the school, even if a conscious attempt to focus on child labour is missing, and even if it does not have a component of community based mobilisation. In fact it is this similarity that has promoted the government to run the ‘ back- to- school’ program on the broad lines of the MVF short-term camp. This program according to some reports initiated as many as two lakh children into schools in the year 1999-2000.

The main difference, apart from the lack of focus on child labour mentioned above, is that the MVF uses the hostel approach only for difficult cases like bonded child labour and other ‘hard core’ cases preferring to rely on direct entry to schools in most cases. It has been the MVF’s experience that for every child it needs to put through a short-term camps and hostel nearly ten others join schools directly. In terms of scalability, given the fact that the government hostels have a capacity of 4 lakh, this implies that, properly utilised, a program broadly on the lines of ‘ back to school’ combined with the major elements of the MVF model, can ensure that as many as 40 lakh children are sent to school.

Is the MVF model replicable?

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This is another question often asked. In the initial stages when MVF ran the project with around 50 to 100 children the success of the program was attributed to the fact that the number of children handled was very small. Later even after the project expanded to over 50 villages and over 10,000 children the view was that it was still not large enough to serve as a model. Today the project covers 500 villages and as many as 1 lakh children have passed through the program. Skepticism on the project nevertheless remains in some quarters. No one really knows how large a size needs to be handled before it can be demonstrated as being replicable.

As far as MVF is concerned the fact that so many children and parents have responded to the program is a clear indication of the validity of the principles directing the program. The child labour situation in the area covered by the project is not in any way different from that prevailing in many parts of the country. In MVF’s view there is absolutely no reason why the program cannot be replicated.

A good indicator of the replicability of a program is the extent to which it seeks to replace existing structures. If the extent of replacement is large then the program is unlikely to be replicable. On the other hand it is marginal then it is definitely replicable. The MVF program very consciously attempts to provide for replication by not building up any parallel structures whatsoever. The approach is to utilise the existing institutions, the Government machinery, and the community to the extent possible. As a result apart from short- term camps, which are disbanded once, the camp is over there is no institution building in the physical sense. The reliance is on Government schools and hostels. The emphasis has also been on influencing government policies because MVF firmly believes that there is no way any significant impact can be made unless the government is fully involved.

Thus for instance the changing of admission rules to permit admissions at any time of the year, the de-emphasising of the NFE program and the policy of having NFE centres attached to schools during day time, recruitment of education volunteers under the DPEP and the entire program of “ back to school” run by the government have resulted from this approach of MVF. Government teachers who have formed themselves into BKVV and their total involvement in the program are another indication of the program’s influence over existing institutions. All these aspects contribute to the replicability of the MVF program as many of its components are slowly being internalised within government programs and policies. As a result over a period of time the MVF program has blended with the existing government programs enriching it rather than supplanting it.

Another aspect of replicability that is often raised related to the people who handle the program. A question that is asked is whether a program on the lines of one run by MVF would succeed if ‘ other people’ were to handle it. The answer depends on exactly what the question implies. If the ‘other people’ is someone who does not accept the basic principles that guide the MVF program then the answer is ”NO” However, any reasonably competent person who accepts the basic principles of the program and who implements the program on the lines devised by MVF would be able to successfully run the program.

In other words, the replicability of the MVF program arises not out of the capabilities of the people running the program but the principles behind the program. If these principles are not accepted then, it is MVF’s belief, that no program of dealing with child labour can be successful irrespective of who runs it. However, if these principles are accepted then it can be successfully implemented. As a result it is a question of the principles on which the program is run rather than who runs it. This is just like running any organisation say for example a financial institution.

As long as certain basic guidelines and practices are adhered to the institution will be able to deliver services successfully irrespective of who is at the helm. In this sense it is replicable. However, no one can deny the role of the individuals and there will definitely be some heads of institutions who are more imaginative, exercise greater initiative and hence be much more successful than others.

These aspects of individuals may not be replicable but this does not mean that the institution and the services it renders are not. In brief therefore, MVF believes that much of its success arises out of the clear set of principles that it has evolved and it is this that holds the key to the program replicability.

How does MVF differ from other programs?

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Most government and non-government initiatives to eliminate child labour accept poverty, irrelevance of education and so on as the cause of child labour. As a result they lack a comprehensive approach to the problem. These initiatives generally involve tackling a particular segment, by and large, the so-called highly exploitative forms of child labour. In other words these initiatives are not based on the belief that all forms of child labour can be eliminated. Very often the implementation of these programs involves providing financial incentives to parents to send their children to school or linking it to other economic incentives like a self-employment scheme for the parents.

In other words they are not based on the belief that parents can and are willing to withdraw their children from work and send them to schools. There are some programs which withdraw children from one form of work and engage them in other, apparently more useful, form of work variously described as vocational education or ‘earn while you learn’ scheme. In other words these programs are based on the belief that childhood is essentially a process of converting children into income earning workers. There are some programs that talk of organizing child labourers into unions to assert themselves. But, this does little to remove them from the labour force and hence is not particularly relevant in the context of eliminating child labour.

As far as universalizing education is concerned policy makers in their wisdom have analysed the situation, arrived at some solutions and have gone ahead with implementing them. The approach has essentially been top-down. No effort has been made to create a demand and there introduce a program in response to the demand. These solutions even if correct can work only if they are seen by the community to be in response to their demands.

In terms of program the emphasis of the government and many other organisations has been on NFE. Again this assumes that a child has to work and that education should not interfere with the work patterns of the child. Finally, there has not been any significant success in introducing compulsory education laws on the ground that this would lead to harassment of parents. The problem in fact is inadequate investment in the sector and compulsory educations laws are avoided mainly to avoid having to provide the necessary infrastructure to support the legislation.

What does the MVF model advocate?

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MVF starts with the basics. It believes that the only way to tackle the problem of child labour is to harness the desire of the parents for a better future for their children through education. It believes that the starting point for any program to withdraw a child from work and enroll him/her in school is to promote the norm within the community that no child should work.

Tackling the community implies not dealing with parents alone but the whole set of people including employers, opinion makers, the elected local body representatives, the community elders, the local youth, teachers and so on. It involves sensitising all these members of the community to the issue of child labour and the manner in which they contribute to its persistence. It also involves sensitising the community to the long-term benefits of eliminating child labour for the community as a whole and not just the parents or the children themselves.

Once sending a child to work is seen as something that is neither necessary nor good for the child, enrolment into schools is automatic. This increases the community’s stakes in the school, which in turn leads to greater involvement of the community in the affairs of the school. Once this happens the quality of instruction and the response from the school to the requirements of the child show a dramatic improvement that promotes a greater response from the community until it becomes a self sustaining process.

In the MVF model therefore, universalization of education is not seen as something, which is initiated by first setting up a school and then asking children to join. The strategy is to first create a demand and then access the school. In this strategy the source of the demand is the desire to abolish child labour.

The rejection by the community of child labour and the consequent development of the school as an institution that takes care of all aspects of a child’s development is the ultimate aim of the MVF model. All its programs aim at operationalising this strategy.

How does MVF view girl child labour? Does it have any special program to deal with their problems?

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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.

How does the MVF program incorporate all these components?

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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.