Rural poverty combined with a massive population
means there are still millions of child labourers in India. And many of them are going hungry.
But these stark realities are behind one of the largest efforts to get children out of
child labour, and into school. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme is the world’s biggest
school lunch program. Since it was adopted on a national level in India, the program
has had an impact across the country. Now millions of families who sometimes can’t
afford enough food can feed their children by sending them to school, and keeping them
out of child labour. (Former Child Labourer – in Kannada language) “I would tell kids who are working that
we used to work, too, and waste our time. Now we come to school every day. Coming to
school made us more intelligent.” India is also making an effort to bring national
policies on health care, rural employment, and compulsory education together, putting
the family at the centre of the fight against child labour. (Mrs. Sudhamani, Math Teacher – in Kannada
language) “A lot of parents don’t send their children
to school because they don’t know the importance of education and its benefits. That’s because
the parents themselves never went to school.” The national effort is helping change those
perceptions, backed by a vibrant civil society movement. Self help groups meet and monitor
families at risk; deliver skills and economic empowerment programmes for adults, and promote
awareness raising activities concerning child labour. Its Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is an
ambitious public works programme intended to provide a basic safety net to the rural
poor. Sound policies can make a big difference.
Where there has been political will, there has been progress. When government, employers,
trade unions and civil society networks come together to promote the right policies, it
can make real change happen.