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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Educating India's child labourers
By Madeleine Morris
BBC News, Alur village, Andhra Pradesh

Children in a village school in Andhra Pradesh attending their morning assembly
In India, 53% of children drop out before finishing seventh grade
Girls at a village school in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh gather for a morning assembly under the shade of a tamarind tree, seeking relief from the heat and humidity of the summer.

After listening to a reading from that day's newspaper, the girls raise their fists in the air and chant slogans proclaiming their right to an education and the equality of girls.

It is a scene that puts into perspective the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which set out eight ambitious targets to halve global poverty by 2015.

World leaders will review the goals during their three-day summit in New York that starts on Wednesday.

Here in India, where 53% of children drop out before finishing seventh grade - 12-13 years old - a goal of universal primary education looks unlikely.


In the Andhra Pradesh school, the proclamation of education rights may seem a strange ritual for the start of a day, but this is not a regular school and these are not regular students.

Durgamma, a former child labourer, studied till grade three
If sometimes I didn't want to go to work, my parents would say, 'if you don't go to work, how will we eat?
former child labourer

All 200 girls here are former child labourers, who were either withdrawn from primary school, or never went in the first place.

Durgamma's story is typical. "I studied until grade three and then I stopped and went to work in the fields for 20 rupees a day," she says.

"If sometimes I didn't want to go to work, my parents would say, 'if you don't go to work, how will we eat?'"

The residential camp is run by an Indian charity, the MV Foundation, and is designed to rehabilitate its charges to the rigours of school life.

When the girls are ready, usually after spending six months or so at the camp, they will be placed back into regular schools and hopefully go on to finish at least primary level.

During our visit to the school, Tukya Naik, a farm worker, arrives with his daughter and niece, Mangi and Sita, both aged nine.

He says he wants them to have an education, but if they stay at home with him, they will continue to run away from school to tend to their goats.

"Tending goats is not a good job," he says. "They need to get an education so they can stand on their own two feet."

Improving attendance

They are fortunate to have such an opportunity. Child labour is a massive problem in India and in Andhra Pradesh in particular.

Economic deprivation and an inadequate education infrastructure mean sending a child out to work from as young as six is an all too acceptable option for rural families in particular.

A graffiti against child labour in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh
The government says it is trying to combat the high attrition rates

More than half the children in this state drop out of school before finishing seventh grade.

The Andhra Pradesh government says it is taking measures to combat the high attrition rates.

Some government initiatives such as free books for primary schoolchildren, a free mid-day meal and the installation of toilets have gone someway to improving school attendance.

But an MV Foundation official, Shanta Sinha, says there is a great difference between what the government says it is doing and what is happening on the ground.

"The resources are not going where they should. There aren't enough teachers and they're under-qualified. In one school there are 300 students and only two teachers.

"The government is trying to paint a rosy picture but not much is happening."

The state government estimates that nearly 400,000 children of primary age are not regularly attending school, but the MV Foundation disputes this figure, estimating closer to four million are not regularly in classes.

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