Photos: Asmita Parelkar
In this quiet village of Bhuja in southern Rajasthan, 14 year old Payal and her younger brother managed to stay back in school despite several pressures to get engaged in child labour following their father’s untimely death. The children suddenly learnt they had to earn wages to manage their family.
Thanks to the social protection schemes such as palanhaar and efforts made by the NGO Mahan Seva Sansthan supported by UNICEF, that young ones are back in school.
Social protection schemes such as palanhaar help to link migrant labourers to government schemes and guarantees them income security. Payal along with five children from her village in Bhuja and approximately 1050 children in 254 villages have been identified or are receiving the benefits of the palanhaar schemes in Rajasthan. This has ensured that children receive education and do not have to sacrifice their childhood to feed their families.
Payal comes from the Bhil community, a predominant tribal community in Rajasthan that are most disadvantaged based on their economic, social and literacy conditions. With 222 families below poverty line (BPL) in a village of 300 households, Bhuja is one of most marginalized villages in the state. It is here that children like little Payal and her brother find themselves being challenged by their circumstances and more often than not end up as child labourers.
The problem of child labour is deep-rooted in Bhuja village which has turned into a fertile ground for recruiting under-age workers for the cotton-picking season in Gujarat. The Bhils are also disadvantaged as they are not landowners and those who own land find it difficult to cultivate it due to lack of adequate infrastructure. Most often, they migrate to other areas with their entire families to earn their living.
Grassroot workers from NGO Mahan Seva Sansthan (MSS) along with the anganwadi worker contacted Payal’s mother, the 40 year old Mandika Devi, mother of five children and a maize and wheat farmer. MSS, which is supported by UNICEF, has been working in the field of child rights and protection in these hard-to-reach areas since the past 25 years primarily through awareness programmes. Specialized in child protection, the NGO conducts workshops, training and campaign programmes to protect children who are in need and prevent them from getting engaged as child labourers.
“We informed her about the palanhaar scheme for Payal. I filled out the form myself for her as she is not literate,” informs Meera Devi, anganwadi worker and teacher. Since then, Mandika and Meera have become good friends. Meera has also helped Payal’s younger brother, Kalu to seek admission in a school and explained to Mandika how to avail the monthly widow’s pension scheme of five hundred rupees.
Thanks to the intervention, Payal and the other four children receiving education have not had to lose out on their childhood to be forced into child labour. Meera believes that education is the only way to improve conditions in the community and generate consciousness among members to prioritize their well-being. She teaches 78 children in her anganwadi center and hopes children like Kalu and Payal will bring fame to her remote village one day when they graduate.
At the Rajkiya Prathmik Vidyalaya school, Kalu studies hard and also enjoys playing with his classmates. Payal, on the other hand, has been registered at a residential school for girls. A beaming Mandika Devi reiterates that her daughter will make her dream come true. “Had it not been for Meera Devi, I would have engaged my children in some kind of work. But now, Payal can make her dream come true.
Bhulia villagers say that a few years ago, some child labourers died in the fields due to exhaustion and snake bites. The community has since joined hands and conducted surprise vehicle checks to ensure children are not being taken by contractors to Gujarat for manual work.
For Payal, her entitlement from the palanhaar scheme for a monthly one thousand rupees till 18 years of her age has enabled her to secure an education for herself. Now she can pursue her dream of becoming a policewoman and aspire for a bright future.
“My grandfather was in the army and my aunt is a police officer. I think I will be a good policewoman after I complete my education,” says Payal with a smile.