GUJARAT, India - 12 July 2013 - Twelve-year-old, Gaurav Tadvi, comes across as an extremely shy and reserved child who talks little, even at home. His father, Prakash complains that ‘he is often lost in his own world’.
Ask Gaurav any question, he will just smile back at you. However, when the discussion is about food, his eyes lightup. A complete foodie, he will rattle with ease, all the brands that sell snacks, sweets and candies.
More than a year and half back, Gaurav started bunking school to work in the cotton fields. Every morning, Gaurav left for school only to make his way to nearby cotton fields with his friends.
“We worked in the fields, so we could buy our favourite snacks,” says Gaurav.
Gaurav’s story defied the conventional theory of connecting child labour to poverty. Unlike kids, who are often forced into labour due to poverty, Gaurav and his friends came from relatively well-off families.
At the fields, Gaurav worked from 8 A.M to 5 P.M and were paid Rs. 15-20. At times, the young ones would skip going to cotton fields and earn money by helping herd cattle.
“For the kids it was all about having fun and earning a bit of money,” says his father Prakash.
Their adventure came to an end when the school teacher called the parents to complain about their absence from school. When Gaurav’s parents confronted him, he refused to go back to school.
For the next 5 months, Gaurav kept on roaming in the village with his friends and going to the fields as and when he pleased.
Community steps in
The central Indian Indian state of Gujarat, according to Census 2011 has a population of 60.38 million. A total 83,846 children are currently out-of-school in the state and 0.48 million children were working as child labourers in the state.
Last year on the World Day against Child Labour, Gaurav’s community had taken a pledge. The pledge to eradicate child labour from their village and ensure every child goes to school. The pledge was taken by 60 parents, their children, community leaders.
In the last one year, with the support of child protection committee members and village volunteers, part of the UNICEF-IKEA Foundation project, many out-of-school children like Gaurav have been identified.
“Initially people were not completely aware of the importance of sending children to school or the bad effects that child labour can have on the children’s overall development. However, following the numerous community meetings on child rights, they understood the seriousness of these issues,” says Kavita Rathwa, one of the village volunteers.
It was at the village meeting that the village volunteers, the school teacher and other villagers coaxed Gaurav into resuming school. After their persistent efforts, Gaurav finally agreed to go back to school.
Gaurav has been attending school regularly for more than a year now and is soon going to be in class 6. His father is grateful to the project staff and the villagers for putting his son back to school.
Thanks to IKEA Foundation - UNICEF partnership and community volunteers like Kavita Rathwa, 20,000 students in 3450 villages of Gujarat are back in school.