A school at work!: A new ray of hope for migrant child labourers…
Saturday, June 26, 2010
A school at work!: A new ray of hope for migrant child labourers…

By Pradeep Baisakh, Odisha
Sunita Tandi, the eight-year-girl from Jharani village under Tureikala block of Balangir district in Odisha has migrated to Bomalaramaro area of Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh. She came along with her parents who have gone in October 2009, to work in the brick kilns there. Sunita is from ST community. Like any other migrant child, she also would have discontinued her study and joined back in same class three when she comes back to her village school in June/July 2010. But thanks to the initiative taken by a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Aide et Action to run worksite schools at brick kilns in Andhra, she is now continuing her study. Sanu Behera, the Odia teacher who teaches about sixty students in the school there says “Sunita will appear her annual tests here in Odia language and will be elevated to class four after returning to her village school”. Necessary order have been passed by the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan (SSA), Odisha for acknowledging the exams conducted in the brick kiln schools. A similar initiative for study of the migrant children has also been initiated by the aforesaid organisation in Tamil Nadu for the Odia migrant children.

Lakhs of people from Western districts of Odisha have traditionally been migrating for last 30 odd years to Andhra and Tamil Nadu to work in brick kilns. This sort of migration is termed as distressed or forced migration as people do not have enough of livelihood option in the home districts. Even after the enactment of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the situation has not improved much due its lackadaisical implementation in the state. People generally migrate with families and stay in the work place for seven to eight months. Child goes to the brick kilns as a child labour by design as s/he constitutes a part of the work unit called Pathuria. The Pathuria constitutes two adult members and a child who mould bricks. As a result the child loses out his/her education and becomes a labour in making. The migration starts during September/October and the families stay till May/June next year in the worksites. As the annual examinations are conducted in the schools in April/May, the child fails to attend the same in its village school due to his/her absence. So when they come back they continue in the same class and again in September they migrate out. After this cycle continues for a year or two, the child eventually drops out of school. A study conducted in 2009 by Migration Information and resource centre (MiRC), Aide et Action in western Odisha suggests that about 23 % of the total migrant children drops out in the process and still alarming is about 28% of such children just do not go to schools.

Some initiatives were taken by the CSOs in Odisha and the state government to start seasonal hostels by name of Residential Child care Centre (RCC) in the source place to accommodate such children when their parents are migrating. At one time RCCs could retain 5000 children in the state.

The initiative that started in 2000 functioned well for four to five yeas but eventually faltered due to apathy of the state. This time around, in Balangir district of Odisha about 49 RCCs have been started under National Child Labour Project (NCLP) but it was done only in January/February 2010 when all the children had already migrated.

As supplement to RCC, Action Aid, a Civil Society Organisation had started the trend of running work site schools in the brick kilns in destination places. This model is doing still well with other CSOs like Aide et Action joining the initiative and extending it to Tamil Nadu. The SSA, Odisha has agreed to support both the leading CSOs in this initiative namely, Aide et Action and Action Aid in running brick kiln schools in the destination places in AP and TN. The SSAs in TN and AP are sharing their primary school premises for the Odia migrant children and providing Mid Day Meals (MDM) to them. Odia teachers have been appointed by these organisations for teaching the Odia children in brick kilns. After completion of education in destination places, annual exams will be conducted by the same teachers there and then the children will be mainstreamed in their native schools and admitted into the higher classes. But that’s not enough as both these agencies are able to provide primary education to only 1000 migrant children in both these states. This model has to qualify from the stage of experimentation to the stage of accepted state policies.

In wake of enactment of Right to Education Act (RTEA), coordination is being done by the CSOs in AP, Odisha and Tamil Nadu with the respective education departments for providing education to the migrant children. As a result of this effort, this time around, state of Tamil Nadu has come up with a draft action plan to ensure early child care and education to all the children migrating to the state from other states and the Andhra Pradesh government has decided to impart education to 50,000 such migrant children in association with the CSOs.

Apart from the issue of education of the migrant children, the issue of child labour also remains as an issue of concern. Sunita, who attend the worksite school in Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh continues to support her parents in brick making. She has to put extra hours for it as she also has to attend school and do her home work. Parents of Sunita, Gourang and Miriki Tandi say “We are quite happy that the schooling of our child has not been stopped here. We are trying hard to reduce work burden on her so that she concentrate on her studies.” Virish Sannap, the supervisor of the kiln where Sunita’s parents work says “in other kilns children are working, but in my kiln we do not encourage child labour!”. But in reality children do work as discussed above and they constitute a vital part of the work unit-Pathuria.

Umi Daniel from Aide et Action says “Children’s education is an entry point for us. Immediately raising hard issues like child labour in kilns is fraught with risks of backlash from the brick kiln owners. Gradually we will take up that aspect and influence the governments of Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to ban child labour in the kilns”. Till then, let’s hope that the brick kiln schools would lend them some light.

[The writer is a social activists and senior editor of www.orissadiary.com, readers can contact him in his email id 2006pradeep@gmail.com and mobile no Mobile no: +91-9437112061 , Readers can read his articles by visiting his blog: http://pradeepbaisakh.blogspot.com/]

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