When I stood to present in front of a conference of government school teachers in the Andhra Pradesh district, one teacher mistakenly thought I worked for the U.S. Department of Labor and started shouting at me in Telugu. When the teachers realized that I was only a law school student, they calmed down but still expressed strong opinions about how to combat child labor, which often paralleled the mission of the Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF) . As an intern with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), I am spending half my summer in Hyderabad, India interning with one of their partner organizations, MVF. MVF’s mandate is that all children out of school are child laborers and through social mobilization strategies, MVF believes they can convince parents and whole communities to take their children out of labor fields and integrate them into bridge schools. The bridge schools are interim schooling camps where children are prepared for integration into formal schools.
MVF wholeheartedly echoes the belief that poverty alleviation is not the correct tactic; instead, in all interview with their staff the word “motivation” was repeatedly used. Their strategy is centered on encouraging whole villages to send their children to their bridge camps, and inspiring employers to forgive debts and permit children to attend school. By motivation, MVF literally means knocking on people’s doors and even putting on performances, such as a street play on the dangers of bonded child labor. Once the first employer forbids child labor on his farm or in his factory, he is held up as an example, a community wide celebration may even take place in his honor.
Moreover, nearly all government and ILO projects have focused solely on the list of hazardous occupations for children specified under India’s Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation Act) of 1986. Yet, agriculture which is the biggest industry for child laborers, is not on this list and therefore not spotlighted. This is the case under the new “Converging” project. It is therefore up to NGOs like MVF to focus on these child labor majorities in their policy work, especially in cotton and vegetable seed hybridization where children are preferred for their delicate and nimble fingers and multinational corporations escape liability by pinning blame on subcontractors.
But the question remains, is it that simple, just spread awareness and people will respond? In Gattikal Villlage, before MVF set up the bridge camps, which are interim schooling camps to prepare children for formal schools after they are taken out of child labor situation, they set up three day camps to acquaint the parents and children to the idea. How did they get the employers to agree to send the kids to the three day camp? Told them it was a picnic! Might seem too good to be true, but the numbers don’t lie. MVF’s strategy has resulted in whole villages where every child attends school. And visiting the bridge camps confirms the positive impact; classrooms filled with laughing children learning addition who just months ago were cross-pollinating cotton seeds.