During the course of the debate on education that brought Hillary Clinton and actor Amir Khan on a platform a young volunteer stated that she had been trying to teach five children under a tree, but that the kids' parents would rather they begged or sold trinkets on trains. This was a touching and yet very real question.
Some time back I had asked my staff to ensure that all pwhy children of school going age should be enrolled in school. Parents had to be convinced and in case they did not agree, the child was not to be accepted in our programme. I was soon to learn that it was yet another silly diktat issued without truly assessing the reality of the situation. There is a bunch of girls well in their pre teens who attend our classes and yet do not go to school. The reason is that their mothers work in the morning and need these girls to man the home and tend to their younger siblings. In the afternoon the moms are back at home and the children can come an attend classes at pwhy and thus educate themselves. Needless to say I immediately reversed the diktat and told the teachers not only to accept them in class but to give them special attention. Some of these girls are exceptionally bright and it occurred to me that if they could not been mainstreamed they could perhaps do their schooling through the open school. Something we need to look at.
There are many instances when children are kept away from school not to be put to work and earn money but to enable mothers to work and this is a reality that all law makers and educationists should keep in mind. And if we were to go a step further, parents who send their children to beg or sell trinkets as was the case with the young volunteer, here too it is a matter of survival. The few rupees brought by the child go a long way in keeping the fires burning. In a country as large as ours and where millions live in poverty any law has to be sensitive to the situation on the ground. In pwhy classes we allow girls to bring their baby siblings to class as if we did not, the child would not be allowed to come. The situation is critical in urban slums where often both parents need to work and the only way they can do so is if the elder child is left at home to tend to the smaller ones. And in our society it is the girl child who is sacrificed.