It’s common to see children working. Do we really know the reason they work?  Or do we just assume that they need 2 square meals a day. And yes, they are heroes. But is it a role that they want to play so early in life?

Conversations with my team, and project visits tell me that most of the time, the children do not actually have an alternative. The Right to Education Act (RTE) specifies that children should remain in school till the age of 14.

So what happens after? Are there neighbourhood schools that can accommodate them? I am afraid not. And thus  they fall easy prey to child labour, child marriage, and the most organized movement of all – child trafficking.

Vulnerable communities, and parents of children in these communities are aware that their children will get out of the cycle of poverty only if they study. They would like their children to study, but do not have the means and access to schools to do so. Why do we assume that parents think otherwise? Indebtedness  creeps in if they have to send their children to private schools, and so  it requires them to make difficult choices. And if they do not go to high school, do children acquire employable skills, which allow them a decent quality of life?

And now let’s examine our attitude to children who are forced to work and study. We feel it is alright if less privileged children work and study – when in fact we are setting the stage for failure as children tend to drop out of school if they cannot cope. Do we not know that studying in high schools requires focused attention, all the physical and emotional energy that the child can muster? And this is what we demand of ourselves and our children.

The questions that we really need to ask ourselves is about the standards and expectations we set, and about having one set for ourselves and another for the rest of the world. And in assuming this very ostrich like attitude, whether we take away the child’s right to dream.

– Suma Ravi

The author is the Director- Southern Region at CRY- Child Rights and You.


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