How to educate child labourer
AMONGST the daily shower of ‘vows’ taken at public forums and delivered to us hungry, anxious souls, the one that shook me as being a disaster was the one about taking 20,000 (or two million) children out of the workforce. They would be paid a stipend, the vow elaborated, and sent to schools.
No person in their right mind can look without sadness at the many films being made of children at work, especially if you are one of the lucky few who have had a happy childhood, have a comfortable life, and are now in a position because of which your children can enjoy all (and more) of what you had.
If somebody took time off to talk to child labourers and asked them why they worked and where their money went, it would be evident that the government should also have to compensate the family (or part of it) that the child’s income supports.
These young boys and girls are aware of their responsibility and appreciative of the ‘slogging’ that both parents and siblings are involved in to keep body and soul together.
True, some of these kids indulge themselves by eating ‘gutka’, pa’an and smoking, but that is not the reason for them not going to school. Political party youth groups need to interact closely with the other half.
Slums and kutchi abadis and government schools have miles between them. The school timings clash with work hours, so even if there were really fired-up youth who wanted education at all costs, it would be impossible to find the right school. (Perhaps one should not forget to pay tribute to the organsers of the Lyari Pavement Schools that function from evening onwards.)
A decade ago, through an agreement between the government in its perpetual quest to entice donors and an almost equal desire of our benevolent loaning friends, children were taken out of the football industry.
They were sent to school and stuck there with a stipend. Drums beat about this great achievement. Suddenly, due to some reason (any will do), the stipends stopped and the children were left midstream, neither here nor there.
Pakistan lost its place in the export sports market. Perhaps that was part of the agenda! Consequently, the children, who were now at a loose end, went into the surgical implement industry. If football making was hazardous, the next option was lethal. There are many lessons to be learnt from that fiasco.
Let us admit that with millions living below the poverty line and a budget which is expected to order tightening of belts, the programme to take children out of work, making them dependent on dole as an incentive to go to school is a sure prescription for disaster.
Playing with human lives, especially during the most vital years, without meticulous planning and cast-iron guarantee that support to families will continue, that there is constant monitoring and evaluation of the programme to assess what effect the academic part is having on the attitude and aspiration levels of the ‘beneficiaries’, is a big risk.
I am apprehensive about the results of this monstrous plan. From observations and lessons learnt from educating boys and girls at a 9am to 9pm learning centre with cooperation of the employers, I believe the best way to educate is to instruct and provide protection against occupational hazards, and give immunisation and health cover, while allowing children above the age of eight to continue learning, a skill trade, hands on.
The families too, in the last five years, have participated in meetings and even ‘viewed’ art exhibits and drama, which students (some or around 16 to 17 years old) have organised.
More importantly, two of the five children who were at the centre are regulars at a properly registered vocational technical institute, at the end of which course they will be certified welders etc. but have acquired a know-how of physics theories vis-a-vis machines. This is an appeal for a second thought.