12-year-old Drishti and 13-year-old Ruhi are two girls from the same community in Uttar Pradesh. They come from similar backgrounds where both families suffer from financial instability. However, despite the struggle Ruhi’s mother sends her daughter to school. But Drishti’s mother Deepa says, “Humare yahaan ladkiyon ko nahi padate (girls are not educated in our homes)”. And she takes immense pride in telling us that her 7-year-old son is regular to school.
Inside the four walls of Drishti’s home, all one can see are shuttlecocks lying around three young girls and an elderly mother – who, together, are meticulously knitting these sport apparatus together. On one corner are boxes of these shuttlecocks assembled neatly, and in the rest of the house there are some clothes, an old gas stove and a few vessels. They earn a minimal 2 rupees for each box that consists 10 shuttlecocks. As a family, they make 50 boxes a day to earn 100 rupees.
The Census of India, 2011, report shows that 10.1 million children in India are child labourers, of whom 4.5 million are girls. Data suggests that in addition to these 10.1 million, more than 42.7 million children are out of school. According to studies carried out by various organisations and individuals, it appears children not going to school are all potential child labourers.
The country’s literacy rate, according to the census, tells us that one-third of our country’s girls are not going to school. One cannot help but perceive that these girls are probably helping their families in informal labour at home or somewhere else.
Drishti is the youngest girl child in this family. She says, “I want to go to school but who will help my mother if I go to school?”
Her two elder sisters, Sanjana (17) and Soumya (15) are also not educated. On the other hand, her eldest brother, Shanmukh (19) studied till class 10 and has become a tailor. Her younger brother, Sourabh (7) goes to school.
According to a report by International Labour Organisation, ‘Age, sex, ethnicity, caste and deprivation affect the type and intensity of work that children perform’.
Ruhi lives only a few kilometres away from Drishti’s home.
A couple of years ago, Ruhi was stopped from going to school. Her parents decided that she need not study because she is a girl. “Our financial situation was terrible. All we could do was send our sons to school”, said Ruhi’s mother, Sayana. It is a belief system in the society that it is okay if girl children work at home and do not study. Fortunately, with Ruhi’s family, World Vision India was able to convince them to send her to school. Ruhi has been going to school since June 2018 and she also attends classes at the remedial education centre run by World Vision India in the community.
Ruhi also was persistent to go to school. “I often told them that I’ll earn money and pay the book and other material fees” she says.
After much persuasion and counselling from World Vision India, Sayana has now understood the importance of educating girls. “I changed the way I viewed my girl child”, says Sayana
Ruhi still works at home, helping her mother after she comes back from school. But Ruhi is relieved that she is at least able to go to school. Ruhi and her mother use beads to decorate dresses for women. They earn 3 rupees for each dress that they decorate and manage to decorate at least 5-10 dresses a day.
Child labour is a huge problem, yet depravity of the girl child is a hidden, overbearing concern lurking behind its shadow. While some families, like that of Drishti’s, fail to understand the importance of educating the girl child; constant counselling and change in attitudes of parents towards the girl child can make a huge impact in the lives of girl children. With a parent’s changed attitude girls will be able to thrive towards education and fight against child labour. Just like Ruhi’s life changed, through the transformation in the mind-set of her parents.
*All names changed to protect identity