Saturday, September 5, 2009

Far from home-close to education

Umi Daniel,
While working with an International agency both in Orissa and Andhrapradesh, the author was actively engage in conceptualizing, designing and executing migrant children’s education programme both at the sources and destination with active collaboration of government and NGO networks. On this Teachers day, this article is dedicated to the young volunteer teachers who have shown excellent courage and conviction to provide education to the children and preventing them from becoming child labour.

Migrant Brick kiln workers who are usually semi skilled are one of most exploited, un-organised and un-regulated labour forces in India. According to some studies, there are around 50,000 brick kilns operating in the country, employing around five lakh workers (the figures may be much higher then what has been indicated). The National Commission on Rural Labour (1991) estimates that more than 10 million rural migrants work in brick kilns. The Commission also notes that brick kilns provide temporary employment to around 10, 00,000 workers.

The brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh employ thousands of seasonally migrating laborers numbering around 200,000, mostly drawn from Western Orissa. These laborers migrate in semi-bonded conditions due to a near-total absence of sustainable livelihood, food entitlement and employment options.

All members of the family work in the kiln, including children who often work as non-paid or less paid workers. While parents remain busy in brick making, the children are usually engaged for manual transporting, tending and conditioning of the bricks under the hot sun. One would be startled to know that child workers alone constitute around 22% of the brick kiln workforce. Most of the children are school dropouts.

Migration, child labour and education:

With their parents becoming regular migrants and staying away from the village for nearly 6-8 months a year, about 45% of the total enrolled children drop out to join their parents in their economic pursuits to far-off brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. Persistent absence from school leads to their names being struck off from the school register. Even when they are back in the villages, they are not able to re-enroll, and are again forced them into wage labor.

It is estimated that, some 30,000-35,000 labour units (each comprising three people) are recruited from western Orissa by intermediary labour contractors for the brick kilns. The total estimate of the children recruited for the work is around 25,000-30,000 followed by another 5,000-8,000 children who accompany their families to the work site. A quick review of the attendance and village registers maintained in Bolangir by CADMB( civil society network) tells us that the drop out rate in the primary schools during 2001-03, were 35%; the rate is much higher in some of the migrant villages located on the villages located on Raipur-Rayagada railway stretch in the districts of Bolangir and Kalahandi in Orissa.

Emergence of Residential Care Centre (RCC)

In 2001, during a district level workshop on migration, issues pertaining to migration and destitution of people, especially women and children, were discussed on length. The former district collector of Bolangir and the district project director of DPEP took the issue seriously and requested the NGOs and civil society organisations to devise a comprehensive strategy to bring back migrant children into the fold of school education.

It was then; an innovative concept called Residential Care Centre (RCC) was formulated. The basic objective of the RCC was to accommodate migrant childrens during the migration seasons of 6-8 months in a residential care centre attached to a primary school. It was decided that the migrant family members would be influenced and mobilized to leave the children back in the village so that they can continue their school education with government support. It was felt that by preventing the children from going to Hyderabad, their education could be continued and that in the long run this would help reduce the number of children becoming child labour.

The DPEP in collaboration with a local NGO began establishing community-managed education centers on an experimental basis. As many as 20 centres were opened in the migration-prone blocks of Turekela, Bongamunda, Khaprakhol, Belpada and Muribahal. All the 20 experimental Residential Care Centres, initiated by CADMB, have been functioning since 14th November 2001. The responses from the migrant parents have been overwhelming with around 2,000 children (both boys and girls) staying at the centres.

Over the years, because of its success, there was an increase in the number of such centres in Bolangir, 72 in 2002, 92 in 2003 and by 2004 other INGO’s started supporting RCCs in some of the high migration induced villages. Taking forward the initiative, the DPEP Orissa has started expanding the RCC to two more districts in Bargarh and Nupaada and has opened up 232 RCCs. With 8000 children studying at the centres, RCC is now considered as a good model for migrant childrens education.

However, there are a number of issues, both at the ground and policy level, that need critical reflection. Some of the issues such as, enhancement of budgetary provision for food, lodging, supervision, remain to be addressed by the government. The VECs need to be made more effective in owning and managing the RCCs. Efforts need to be made to enhance the participation of NGOs and CBOs so that they can add value in monitoring and providing support. Lastly, it is the teachers who need strong motivation, encouragement and support for running the RCCS.

Worksite schools in Andhrapradesh:

Despite a number of RCCs functioning in Bolangir, influx of children with their families to Hyderabad continued. Hyderabad accommodates all the migrant families from western Orissa and Bolangir had some share in the migrant population. In 2002, I was undertaken a mapping of the brick kilns in Rangareddy and Medhak district of Andhrapradesh. The study revealed startling and bare facts about the migrant labourers, their lives in the brick kiln, the plight of the women and children and the deplorable and exploitative working conditions.

Perturbed by the distress situation in the brick kilns, the INGO has initiated dialogue with the brick kiln owners, the intermediary labour contractors, APRLP( Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihood Project), AP Civil supply department and the erstwhile DPEP for a collective response on the issue.

An immediate need was to bring the working children back to school and through the school as an entry point familiarize more about the condition and situation of brick kiln, document the human rights issues and help the workers into unions. Some educated young people from Bolangir willing to travel to Hyderabad to work as teacher cum community worker were engaged. It was important to have teachers from Bolangir because of their expertise of local language and knowledge of Oriya teaching. The teachers were provided with training in Bolangir and Hyderabad on a wide range of subjects starting from the socio-economic profile of migrant labour, poverty and hunger issues of migrant families, Human rights, labour rights and basic teaching skills in bridge course with support from DPEP and MVF. The local DPEP in Bolangir provided Oriya text books for the schools and assured support for mainstreaming the children back to their mother schools upon return.

The stage was set; the first batch of 10 schools in the brick kiln started functioning during the beginning of 2002. The teachers, 12 of them who too had migrated from Bolangir initiated a quick survey and identified 1768 children in Patancheru, Qutubulapur, Jinnaram, Dindigul in Rangareddy and Medhak district. Schools were started in makeshift and temporary sheds. While, 760 children were mobilized to join the schools, only around 500 children could be mainstreamed in the respective villages when the migrants returned home.

The learning from these experiments was quite interesting and educative. While, less than 50% of the identified children were brought back to the schools, a further drop of 35% of children in mainstreaming in Orissa was noticed. The reasons are complex and multiple. Some of the key factors were - there was not enough space for running the schools; a number of childrens who had received advance from the labour contractors were not allowed to attend school; the number of trained oriya teachers were less. And the dropout rate was more during the fag end of the work season when workers use all their strength to finish the work to return home. And lastly, , teachers were at times forced to talk about issues pertaining to human rights violations thus inviting the ire of the brick kiln owners in the process.

Nevertheless, the learning atmosphere in the brick kilns was quite stimulating. Children hailed from varied caste, caste and regions (different villages and district) together showing immense interest to learn both school curriculum and innovative learning. The process was also quite empowering with the brick kiln labour community actively preventing their children from working as child labour.

The first inter-State meeting in 2002 attended by government officials of Orissa, AP was a great success from the view point of charting out a wide range of collaborative steps to deliver education in the brick kilns. The meeting went a long way towards sentitising both government officials of both states (the sources and the destination) on the plight of migrant labourers, with most agreeing to work on common minimum issues like education with full support from both parties.

As a result of the inter-State meeting, the SSA of AP has agreed to provide space in the neighbouring primary schools for running oriya classes, extend mid day meals for the migrant children and review the education programme by the MEO, Sarpanch of the concerned panchayat and doing a quick feasibility for running mini-Anganwadi centres for the pre school kids and pregnant women workers. A commitment was enlisted from the SSA Orissa who agreed to support the salary cost of the migrant teachers, send required number of text books for the children and help the children join higher classes when they return home.

In the subsequent seasons, we have intensified efforts to strengthen the schools. More number of centres were opened to cover as many as children as was possible. There was a remarkable improvement in recruiting teacher from 10 to 50 and the number of centres went up from 10 to 40. Similarly the number of children attending the centres went up from 600 to 2500. In the same vein, mainstreaming in Orissa also significantly rose from 400 to 1500. Government officials from both states met regularly to strengthen the collaboration between civil society organisations and the government. The government of Andhrapradesh replicated the model for migrant children in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and the government of West Bengal took the learning to Bardhwan district to work with migrants.

It is common knowledge that faster economic growth, informalisation, and mobility of labour have been great concerns for policy makers and planners. Urban areas are increasingly attracting huge work forces from rural areas. However, there has been no decrease in the distress and suffering faced by entire migrant families because of lack of access to social security, education and welfare measures from the government. This is high time the government paid enough attention to its commitment to UEE and the Constitutional amendment of 2005 making education as fundamental rights.

While posting this article, a resources centre on migration ( MiRC) Migration Information and Resources Centre has been set up in Bhubaneswar, Orissa to further the work on migration and education, labour rights, research & policy advocacy initiatives in Orissa and the migration destinations states. I have already had meeting with the Ministry of labour and education department of Orissa, AP, Tamilnadu and consultation with ILO Tamilnadu, meeting with SSA, unicef and local NGOs in Tamilnadu to work with the Orissa migrant workers.

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