Spotlight on the Center for Rural Education and Development (CRED), IndiaThe Centre for Rural Education and Development (CRED) is implementing a project in Tamilnadu province, in southeastern India, as part of Winrock's CIRCLE Project. The main purpose of the project is to raise awareness about and address the various hazardous forms of child labour among the target communities in Madurai district. The key innovation of CRED's project has been to launch Non-Formal Education (NFE) centres for youth and, at the same time, self-help groups for parents and community adults. While the NFE centres provide life skills, education, and vocational training to child labourers, members of the SHG discuss the consequences of child labour and initiate broader community solutions and actions for change.
Child labour is a phenomenon which deeply affects the development and welfare of India. Most work situations deprive children of appropriate education that will enable them to move successfully into adulthood. Child labour violates the human rights that belong to every person.
There are several root causes for child labour in CRED's target area. Most of the rural population in their service are living below the poverty line. They are poor not only because of monsoons and land issues, but also due to low levels of literacy, economic hardships, and the climate of few workers' rights. At the same time, social factors such as low birth order and caste, traditional and habitual practices, and community norms influence decisions to send children to work rather than to school. Under local circumstances, many parents must deal with survival and economic concerns before they can attend to their children's education. They feel that their only option is to send their children for work, often for 7-10 hours per day. The continuous practice of child labour may severely affect the psyche of the children and also threatens their future health, skills, and quality of life.
CRED believes that a sustainable strategy must focus on the situation of child labourers now and also work to change deeply held attitudes. Therefore the NGO is using a dual strategy which includes centers that work with youth AND self-help groups for community members.
Self-Help GroupsThe idea of the self-help group is to bring people together to discuss both the economic and the social issues that affect all aspects of their lives (including the labour of their children), and to come up with real solutions. Many of the groups are made up of minorities, who tend to be the poorest and most disadvantaged persons with the highest rates of child labour in their families. The members are most often women and mothers. CRED conducts trainings with several modules for each group on the self-help concept (strength in unity, group dynamism, knowledge sharing), leadership development, family budgeting and accounting, planning of life goals, and rights awareness. They encourage the group to think about their roles and responsibility in society, particularly on the elimination of social crises like child labour, early marriage, and gender bias.
Because the members have voluntarily come together and truly want to create change, the self-help groups have raised members' awareness of their personal and collective role in eradicating child labour. CRED has sensitised them to the vulnerability of children and discussed the worst forms of child labour. They are also examining the practical long-term consequences of child labour. For example, a child involved in the workforce earns merely 30-40 Rs. per day. When the child loses her education, she will ultimately stay a low-skilled worker and will still earn the same salary at the age of 20,30, 40, and beyond. Through the awareness meeting and brain storming sessions, the people are becoming aware of this reality. The self-help group representing people from Viralipatty and Kattakulam villages, for example, passed a special resolution on 26th January 2005 in a Gram Sabha (village committee) meeting to make their communities child labour-free zones.
Here are a few other examples of actions taken by the project's self-help groups:
- Some self-help groups are paying for the electricity and rent of their local NFE centres.
- 56 women's self-help groups have formally resolved to eliminate child labour (especially its worst forms).
- 124 self-help group members have also become active members of their local Parent-Teacher's Association in order to ensure the educational right of their children.
- One self-help group, with its local NFE teacher, was able to re-start a PTA that had been inactive and motivate the panchayat to pass a resolution for child labour prevention.
Non-Formal Education CentresIn addition to launching self-help groups, CRED has also established 24 NFE centres in 14 villages. In Viralipatty village, for example, the centre is noticeably reducing child labour. The centres offer flexible schedules and optional choices to child labourers who must continue to work for some hours each day, and particularly try to work with those in very vulnerable conditions. The NFE centres provide alternative education, and staff work with children and parents to plan for their integration into formal schools.
At the NFE centre in Kulasekarankottai village alone, program services are currently being offered to 19 child labours between 14-18 years old; Mrs. Malarmani (the NFE teacher) conducts classes in the evening to accommodate their work and now, in some cases, other school schedules. Of the 21 child labours found here during the baseline survey, 16 (11 girls, 5 boys) engaged right away with the NFE centre. Others have since followed. The curriculum includes basic counting, environmental awareness, health and hygiene matters, and suitable vocational trainings. The balance of the children attending this NFE centre will be mainstreamed to the formal education institution by the upcoming academic year (June 2005). Due to the success of the centre, four children have already been enrolled in the formal education system and seven girls have been referred for nursing training. The local Pavalamalli self-help group came forward to provide financial support to two NFE children to continue their school education.
The centre activities are highly appreciated by the local Panchayat committee, which has allotted a common building to house the centre. The President of Kulasekarankottai publicly stated that CRED's CIRCLE strategy, to provide not only life skills to youth but also vocational training and assistance with mainstream education, is bound for sustainable success.
CRED began with a strategy of advocacy and broader awareness building about the importance of children's education and the hazards of hard work. This is particularly needed in the case of female children, whose education is devalued due to social tendencies. By attending CRED's street theatre, the public began to realise the problems associated with child labour. This growing awareness was reflected at the first local self-help group meeting, as the assembled community members discussed their role in tackling the problem. Meanwhile, the NFE teacher talked to the members of the Gokulam self-help group, who agreed to send their children to the centre.
CRED's innovative approach is proving the importance of linking actions by parents and community members with the education of children, for reducing child labour. The members of the Malaimagal self-help group and the Marumalarchi Mahalar Mandram of Viralipatty, for example, received awareness-raising training through CRED/CIRCLE and resolved to assist local families that are engaging their children in work, and to make their village child labour-free. Local government officials have noted their initiative, and the district administration has taken measures to arrange financial assistance to prevent child labour and create alternative employment for adults and older youth.