“Now it is us who will eliminate child labour in our own villages!”
Updated: Aug 2
A look back on how our PEACE India operation's impact long after project completion to fulfil its goal to ensure the long-term elimination of child labour
ACE'S PEACE India Project aims to eliminate child labour and support children's quality education in the cotton production areas of India, specifically in Telangana state where approximately 480,000 child labourers work in the cotton fields.
“I want to send my own kids to school, not to work”
ACE has been implementing its program in Jorangamba-Gadwar District of Telangana Province since 2014. A 'takeover ceremony' was held in April 2018 to celebrate the completion of the project and officially hand over responsibilities to local residents. The ceremony is hugely symbolic, considering the fact that local residents are engaged, and empowered to act, as the main actors in project activities in their villages from day 1, if not earlier.
The venue attracted many, including village heads, local education bureau staff, principals and teachers, residents, women's self-help groups, and of course children, resulting in a large and lively gathering of about 200 people.
The ceremony's turnout and the passion exhibited by those who attended was a heart-warming reflection of the huge changes that the communities had both undergone and instigated themselves in the past 4 years. Some of the main activities of the project include the operation of a bridge school (a transit school that gateways re-entrance or initial entry to a public school) and training local residents, to strengthen their capacity to monitor and deal with cases of child labour. Ultimately the project aims to protect the rights of all children and youth in these communities.
How sending just one child to school can set off a chain reaction
In two other villages of Telangana state, where to date over 345 compulsory-school-aged children have been withdrawn from work and given access to education, we saw the ripple effect of change in action. Renuka (9 at the time) and her older brother (12) were just two of hundreds of children who have been able to go to school through the project’s activities. They had previously worked in a cotton field with their parents.
As a result of repeated home visits and discussions with staff and volunteer groups, Renuka's brother started going to the bridge school. He studied hard and did his homework at home. Having seen the changes he underwent, their parents decided to also allow Renuka to go to the bridge school.
Another boy in their village, Maresh transferred to a public school in a different village. There are public schools in the village, but since they only offer schooling up to fifth grade of elementary school, the children study at a boarding-only public school outside the village. PEACE India also introduces external schools to children so that they can continue their education. At the time, Maresh had a 4-year-old brother named Banney. "I'm going to school when I'm six," Banney said, having seen both his older brother and older sister attending school. Even among three siblings, going to school was becoming commonplace.
Girls Empowerment Groups
Girls' empowerment is a key part of the community projects since girls in these communities were much more likely to be working without receiving primary school education as it was commonplace that girls did not need an education as they would likely be married as adolescents. Social groups are established for 14 to17 year old girls who have passed the compulsory school age, and without having had an education. In the group the girls can share their worries and issues, as well as learn about children's rights, health and hygiene practices and maternity care. In February 2017, we participated in a group session with girls who were almost at the end of their group activities.
At the beginning there were many girls who could only speak with a quiet voice, scared to voice their opinions, yet this time round, nearly nine months on, they were responding to our questions with a new sense of self-confidence. When they worked in the fields, they had to work silently for a long time from morning till night without any free time, but now they can enjoy happily chatting with each other.
Having learnt about what children’s rights were, and the importance of education, they asserted, "When I become a mother in the future, I want my children to go to school instead of working." Going forward, we will continue to work to ensure that understanding and protecting children's rights takes root in future project villages.