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Poverty, Illiteracy and Child Labour: A Trap for Rural Children by Sweta Singhal

By Volunteer Sweta Singhal, FHI Guwahati

As per the provisional Census 2011 figures, India has recorded an aggregate child population of 158 million which comprises a rural child population of 117 million and an urban child population of 41 million.

Given the fact that there is rampant poverty in the rural regions of our country, we can figure out how it reflects on the situation of the children and youth residing in those regions as well. Poverty, considered by many as the cause of all evils, deprives the children from an all-round education and keeps them from enjoying even the basic necessities of life.

Having grown up in a largely rural area, I remember hearing about children who would give up on their education and would set out to the cities so that they could earn money and support their families, who couldn’t afford much more than their daily livelihood. Even children aged 5-10 years hardly care about going to school in rural areas because, more often than not, a parent is missing or both the parents are involved in minimum wage jobs. Poor family environment, day-to-day earnings, abuse, domestic violence as well as the lack of knowledge about prevalent government agendas to alleviate poverty lead the rural families to give more importance to earning money rather than letting their children pursue a complete education. Thus starts the vicious cycle of child labour.

So, what can we do, as youth who have had access to a proper, well-rounded education along with innumerable opportunities to live our life with a higher standard of living?

There are various measures that have already been implemented by the government such as the Mid-day Meal Scheme, free education for children between the age group of 6-14 years, subsidized books and uniforms, scholarships for high schools and colleges, Child Labour Act, etc. But there is still scope for further improvement and there are still a lot of children to reach out to. By undertaking volunteering, we can be the ones to take one step further.

In today’s fast-paced world of social media, there is no such information that cannot be shared with millions of people in the shortest span of time. We, as individuals, can bring the digital world to the rural children or we can spread awareness about the rural situation to the rest of the world. All of it is a click away.

We can make education more accessible through the internet. There is no dearth of educational videos and e-books on the internet in vernacular languages. The key is to make the necessary resources accessible to the children. The following example sheds light on the issue of accessibility to knowledge.

In 2010, an ex-physicist and professor, Sugata Mitra started the “A hole-in-the-wall” project in remote Kalikuppam in Tamil Nadu. He installed a computer and loaded it with molecular biology educational material in English, in the village square and then, promptly disappeared. The children couldn’t even speak any English. Yet, when Mitra returned after 75 days, he administered a test on molecular biology and discovered that these children could answer one in four questions on the topic correctly. He once again did his disappearing act only to return and administer another test on the same subject, albeit advising a local teacher to oversee them. This time around, the children were getting 50 percent of the questions right and were able to easily identify and explain things like DNA, RNA, neurons, heredity, and chromosomes and had also learned words in English.

This is only one small example of how we can make resources available to children who are already curious and bubbling with the innate thirst of knowledge. Making resources like the internet, computers and smart devices accessible in rural areas can create a huge difference in the educational scenario. Involving social media and other channels to initiate funding and collection of resources, so as to afford the necessary devices and materials, can also lead to making education and better livelihood opportunities accessible to rural children and youth.

Building a cohesive volunteer network that can share time and provide resources to rural children as well as vigilant agencies that can look out for children who are caught in the clutches of child labour and teenagers who are working for minimal pay in dismal environments, can help break the vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and the subsequent child labour that is a result of those problems.

We also need to be mindful of children forced into child labour, who come from abusive backgrounds or do not have a parental figure. Spreading awareness about support groups and agencies for rehabilitation as well as laws among our peers as well as rural people can work towards lowering the numbers. Awareness programs on such issues can be undertaken from time to time so as to reach out to as many people as possible.

Lastly, we can all strive to contribute some of our own potential, time and knowledge, as volunteers and as individuals, and come together to lend our hands to the ones who need it the most. Helen Keller rightly said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

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