According to the 2001 National Census, in India more than 12 million children in the age group 5-14 are still engaged in exploitative occupations that are detrimental to their rights and to the full development of their potentials. Overall, available estimates on the issue of child labour in India are showing very little progress throughout the years, giving evidence of the gravity and indeed the endemic nature of the problem in the country.
In the last decade, the Government of India has multiplied its efforts to address the needs and rights of exploited children. The basic objective of Government child labour policy is “suitably rehabilitating the children withdrawn from employment thereby, reducing the incidence of child labour in areas of known concentration”.
The largest and most structured intervention in the area of child labour in India is the National Child Labour Projects (NCLP). The NCLP Scheme targets children below 14 years of age working in specific areas of hazardous work, listed as 15 Occupations and 57 processes in the Schedule to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986. Under the scheme, a survey of child labour engaged in hazardous occupations/ processes is conducted, following which the children are withdrawn from work and admitted to special schools in order to enable them to be mainstreamed into the formal schooling system. These schools are often referred as “bridge centres”, underlying their inherent temporary function and the importance of mainstreaming children into school as their ultimate objective.
The programme, centrally managed by the Ministry of Labour (MoL), was launched in 9 districts in 1987 and has been expanded in January 2005 to 250 districts in 21 different states of the country. So far, 400,200 working children, have been covered under the scheme and about 308,000 children have been mainstreamed into formal education system.
Children in NCLP bridge schools are taught according to a condensed syllabus for a maximum period of three years, during which time the children are expected to complete the level of Class 5 and be ready to join the formal stream of education in the Class 6. Children who are able to complete their course of learning in less than three years are encouraged to enter the formal school earlier.
The urgent need for systematic monitoring of the NCLP
It is well known, however, that it is not only access to education, but rather ensuring their retention in school that can make the long-lasting difference in improving the lives of working children and preventing them from returning into the workforce. The economic challenges faced by many families in keeping released children released from work in school, as well as the lack of perception of education as a valuable investment for their future, can easily lead former child labourers to drop out from rehabilitation programmes shortly after enrolment.
Regular monitoring of children, both in bridge schools and after mainstreaming, becomes, therefore, crucial. Moreover, collecting information on the child after withdrawal from work is essential not only to follow up on his or her educational progress, but also to better understand the multiple vulnerabilities surrounding the phenomenon of child labour and to adjust the exiting rehabilitation mechanisms accordingly to ensure the programme’s efficiency and maximum benefit for the child.
To address this issue, UNICEF is supporting the Central Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, in the development of a child tracking system to monitor the progress of children involved in the National Child Labour Projects.
The specific objectives of the initiative are to:
a) Provide regular information on the enrolment and retention in schools of released children;
b) Verify the impact of the Government’s child labour interventions throughout the country by measuring the sustainability and quality of impacts;
c) Monitor child labour trends through the identification of variables and parameters affecting child vulnerability to economic exploitation and
d) Strengthen the link between child labour prevention and education strategies.
Central to the Child Labour Tracking System is the development of appropriate software for the collection, storage and analysis of key information on each child withdrawal from labour admitted in the NCLP scheme. Data are to be collected first at school level, and then entered in a computerised system at district level, which in turn becomes the primary repository of information.
Data collected are varied in nature. First, the tracking system is designed to provide information on the profile of each child participating in the NCLP. Records include, for instance, educational status, working sector and conditions, family background, caste, etc. – information which contributes to a better understanding of the multiple vulnerabilities of children and their families. Secondly, the system provides specific information on the child educational and rehabilitative process, including class attendance, academic performance, and the frequency with which a scholarship (or stipend) is paid and health check ups conducted. Thirdly, embedded in the tracking system is a component that enables the immediate and automatic generation of consolidated reports, hence providing ‘at a glance’ information for the analysis of data, as well as for the overall monitoring and planning activities related to the implementation of the scheme.
Besides the development of the software, a series of implementation steps were required to integrate the system into the NCLP project. These steps included the standardisation of data collection mechanisms, capacity building of implementers and stakeholders, as well as the establishment of a network to flow information from the field to the district and to the central level.
The tracking system has been customized and piloted in 7 selected NCLP districts of the country (Badohi and Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh and Medak and Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, Murshidabad in West Bengal, and Bangalore (urban and rural) in Karnataka. The selection of the districts was made to test the system in very different contexts of the country where the NCLP scheme is implemented. This pilot implementation is meant to be preliminary to the development and implementation, by the Central Government, of a plan for the integration of the tracking system in the entire NCLP scheme, which to date covers 250 districts in 21 states of the country.
• The profiles of more than 65,000 children were generated during the pilot implementation of the tracking system.
• The tested NCLP tracking system allowed the surfacing of information otherwise unavailable on children participating in the NCLP projects (see box at the end of this section). Children’s education performance, drop out rates and data on the economic sectors emerged for the first time in a consolidated way, allowing the generation of detailed reports and thereby providing the opportunity for much closer follow up.
• From the data collected and the reports so far generated key information on the functioning of the NCLP schools in targeted areas became available.
• The emerging of detailed information on the NCLP implementation status therefore makes the NCLP tracking system not only a useful tool to monitor the rehabilitation of each child participating in the National Child Labour Scheme, but also an important instrument for policy planning, implementation, and for timely corrective action when this is necessary.