Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children
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PHOTOS: CHILD LABOUR
CIRCLE partner Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children (CWIN) is successfully raising awareness about the dangers of child labor and the importance of education in one of the world's least developed countries. Out of Nepal's 23 million people, one-third live below the extreme poverty line (US $1/day). Children under the age of 18 make up about half of the total population: meanwhile, barely 80% of children enroll in primary school at all, and only 51% complete the primary level. The ILO-IPEC estimates that 2.6 million Nepalese children are working, in nearly every sector of the economy: these include agriculture and stone quarries, domestic service and hotels, as well as many others.

Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children (Arunodhaya), a non-profit child rights organization, was founded in 1992 in Chennai, southern India. Its vision is to initiate social movement that will uproot all forms of exploitation and oppression of children, by working with local communities to promote and protect children's basic human rights. Their organizational goal is to enable all children to enjoy a dignified childhood.

Arunodhaya is implementing its CIRCLE-funded project in the poorest, least developed area of the city of Chennai. A large number of children here are working in stainless steel factories, plastic factories, and beedi rolling, or are selling wares as street vendors or collecting rags. In its baseline survey, the team identified 450 children who had dropped out of school and were working. Arunodhaya's project builds on community participation to make everyone aware of the importance of education for child labourers, as well as the dangers of many forms of children's work. Long-term sustainability is an objective of the project, since Arunodhaya knows that the members of the community themselves have the power to prioritize the education of all children (even after funding ends).

Arunodhaya believes that mobilizing a broad cross-section of the community is the most important element of their project's success. Their innovation lies in (1) their quick mobilization of various stakeholder groups, including children, parents, public offices, and employers and (2) their attention to root causes of child labour in their area (including health and economic issues).

Through Arunodhaya's innovative work, the community has quickly seen results from their efforts, which gives them more inspiration to continue in this fight against child labor.

 Photo of Children in Transitional School

PHOTO: CHILDREN AT TRANSITIONAL SCHOOL (CLS)
Among the various interventions, 10 child laborers' schools (CLS) form the core of the project. These transitional education centers assist children who have been working and out of school, preparing them for the structured environment of the formal school system and making them feel safe and supported. Children attend CLS for several weeks or months, depending on their needs, then move into formal schools. In a one-year period, the Arunodhaya CIRCLE project has moved 351 children through its transitional programs and into formal education: so far, all of them have stayed in school. It is a joy to see the children going to school with high enthusiasm.

Besides the CLS programs, Arunodhaya is working with children in sangams. A sanagem is a platform through which children can express their views. Held once each fortnight, the meetings provide space for children to discuss and analyze their life situations, develop their personalities, build leadership skills, and plan actions to effect changes they desire. The CIRCLE team is also working on a youth forums, which will provide a way for youth to develop their views and then take them to the public. The youth meet once a month to discuss issues and plan awareness raising actions. Facilitators are trained to develop their leadership skills, and career guidance is offered to facilitate their later employment opportunities.

SICKNESS & HEALTH: A hidden root cause of school drop-out and child labour

Arunodhaya has found that children's health plays a major role in whether or not they continue their studies. Health risks are high in the target communities, and most families do not have money for proper care. Many children stay out of school when they are sick, get out of the routine of learning, and then end up back at their jobs rather than in school. Typical sicknesses include skin infections, tuberculosis, worm infestation, and anemia.

Arundohaya has therefore integrated awareness raising into its project and is working to inform people about children's health and its links to child labor and education. At parents' meetings, sessions focus on prevention, treatment, and protection. Parents are informed of ways to prevent communicable diseases and ways to buy affordable, nutritious food. Health nurses from Chennai public primary health centers are invited to speak to the parents. The Arunodhaya CIRCLE team is also informing the children themselves. In times of disease outbreaks (cholera and chicken pox this year), Arunodhaya has collaborated with the health department and distributing handbills in the community.

In the CLS centers, nutritious meals are provided to the children and sick boys and girls are referred to hospital for treatment (with the CLS teacher following up on each case).

 Photo of Parent's Meeting

PHOTO: PARENTS' MEETING
Parents as Key Stakeholders.

Arunodhaya's CIRCLE project also organizes regular monthly meetings with the parents, who are clearly the key decision-makers in the lives of their children. The project has succeeded in changing parents' attitudes, and they are now motivated to find ways to send their sons and daughters to school and to make sure they stay there. Topics on the monthly agenda include “Hazards of Children at Work,” “Importance of Education,” “Health and Hygiene,” “Progress of Children in CLS,” ”Guidelines on enrolment and admission to formal schools,” and “Group Savings and Formation of Mothers' Self-Help Groups.” These parents groups have made collective decisions and taken real steps in each area, so that parents are now taking an active part in all the activities of the project.

Two major results can be attributed directly to the parents' involvement in the project:
  1. The mothers have formed self-help groups which guide them in saving and starting new enterprises to improve their economic situation. Building on their heightened awareness, these savings allow the mothers to make children's education a family priority.
  2. With the help of parents, Arunodhaya has begun to draw employers of children into the community response and activities. Several employers have been contacted and invited to a series of discussions on eliminating child labor; those who agree to attend have made positive steps already. Through the project's intervention, and with the help of the parents, five employers have cooperated and freed five children from their premises. Though the number looks small, it represents a lot of effort on the part of the project staff to persuade the employers to cooperate. Importantly, these employers have become ambassadors in carrying the message to other who hire children. They have come forward in advocating the employment of older youth instead of children.
Arundohaya is now working with 50 employers who are supporting the cause of child rights.