M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation's experiences in elimination of child labour through education

A brief note

The M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MV Foundation) has been working on issues relating to working children for the last 10 years in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh. The profile of working children in this area is as follows:
  • Bonded labourers (boys).
  • Cattle herds of shepherd is for the family (boys & girls).
  • Agricultural labourers involved in sowing, weeding and harvesting (girls) and ploughing (boys) either for the family or others on a wage employment basis.
  • Domestic workers, fetching water, fuel, wood, caring of siblings, washing clothes, cooking and house keeping.

MVF's understanding on child labour issues

The fundamental premise governing the programme of MV Foundation is that "even" in the Indian context child labour is not inevitable. The MV Foundation's experience of removing over 100,000 children from work has shown that there is a deep and inextricable link between universalisation of elementary education and elimination of child labour in India. This has been possible because the MV Foundation operates on the basic principle that every child out of school is a child labourer and does not choose to distinguish between children engaged in different forms of work. The foundation's work therefore is based on the premise that the only way to eliminate child labour is to universalise education and vice-versa. It is in this context that the MV Foundation has been working towards putting children in schools.

A second aspect of the MV Foundation's work arises from the fact that it views universalisation of education as a means to eliminate child labour and that the only form of education that is acceptable is full time formal school education. In this context the organisation does not view such measures as providing non-formal education as viable solutions either for universalising education or for eliminating child labour. MV Foundation's programs therefore revolve entirely around the formal school system.

The MV Foundation has always recognised the fact that for a strategy to be successful it must be replicable. It is for this reason that it has tried to utilise existing institutions to the maximum and has not set up any parallel structures. It has invariably utilised funds available under normal government programs, government schools and other institutions. Again, it has gone out of the way to involve government teacher groups and has been particularly successful in establishing a government teachers' forum against child labour. The involvement of the local community elders and local body representatives has been a conscious strategy on the part of the organisation. Thus while there are a number of new elements in the MV Foundation strategy it is the new processes rather than new institutions which play a key role.

The evolution of the MV Foundation's strategies has been strongly influenced by its appreciation of the fact that parents even belonging to the poorest of the poor have an intense desire to educate their children. It has been found that they have not been able to send their children to school because of poor access to schools. Moreso, the reason of in accessability has been the social, cultural and bureaucratic impediments.

The MV Foundation strategy takes note of the fact that these impediments are real. The strategy therefore relies heavily on motivating parents, easing the problems of enrolment and in general bridging the gap between the household on the one hand and the institution of school on the other. In doing this the MV Foundation programme aims at developing a process where parents despite being illiterate acquire confidence in demanding education for their children and thus harness their latent desire to shift their children away from work.


The MV Foundation has achieved significant successes in the ten or so years of its existence in the area of child labour.
  1. Its area of operation has expanded from 3 villages in 1991 to more than 500 villages in 1999.
  2. Over 10,000 youth volunteers contribute to the program today.
  3. 85 villages have been made child labour free.
  4. In more than 400 villages all children below the age of 11 years are in formal schools.
  5. Bridge Course Camps covering 25,000 children from 1986 to 1999.
  6. Over 2300 education activists participate in the program.
  7. More than 4000 bonded labourers have been released.
  8. Nearly 5000 adolescent girls have accessed schools through the programma.
  9. A forum of government teachers with strength of 1300 teachers bas been formed to carry on the campaign against child labour.

Community Participation

In all the activities of the MV Foundation programme there has been a significant and unprecedented participation of the community which includes parents, youth, school teachers, employers, elected representatives, women's groups and the children themselves.

A major component of the MV Foundation is the change in the attitude of the parents towards their children in school. Most of them have made enormous sacrifices in terms of time and money to ensure that their children remain in school. The work hitherto done by the child has been redistributed among other adults in the family. There have been several instances where cattle and other livestock have been sold once the children were enrolled in schools as there was no one to look after them now. Above all the parents' confidence in the capabilities of their children has increased enormously. In complete contrast to conventional wisdom on the crucial role which the child's income plays in the sustaining the family economy, parents have in fact begun to spend more money than before on their children.

Community pressure has also played a great role in changing the attitude of the employers towards children. With declining acceptability within the community of the role of children as workers, employers are no longer in a position to employ children quite as easily as before. In fact community pressure has resulted in employers voluntarily sponsoring children working with them for enrolment in schools and bridge courses. With the decline in availability of children to work in their fields larger landlords have been forced to change cropping patterns. Crops such as floriculture, which depended to a large extent on children during the flower picking operations, are now no longer popular.

A major role in the extension as well as teaching aspects of the program is played by the youth activists and the program to a large extent relies on them. As first generation literate these youth are much better motivated and aware of the issues involved. Both in terms of their ability to understand the socio-cultural barriers which prevent children from being to school and in terms of being able to break the myths surrounding a parent's apparent need to send a child to work these youth have become ideal education activists.

Government School Teachers
A large part of the problem relating to both child labour and universalising primary education has to be ultimately dealt with by the teachers in the schools. However few government teachers have any knowledge of the link between the two issues of elimination of child labour. At the same time lack of adequate infrastructure and in particular manpower has led to teachers resorting to various dubious methods of restricting the number of children in a class to a manageable number. Attempts by the government in the past to conduct enrolment drives have resulted in failure almost on this single count and while enrolment on the registers is shown the children are neither availabie nor even permitted to be in the classroom. The MV Foundation, as a part of its strategy to involve all those concerned with the process of withdrawing a child from work and enrolling in school, has assisted in the formation of a forum of teachers against child labour. This forum has been instrumental in raising the level of consciousness among the teachers and has already begun networking with other teachers and teacher groups from other areas.

Other Forums
Every mobilisation effort has resulted in institutionalising the processes involved. Thus for instance strong Parent Teacher's Associations have been formed in each school. They play a major role in ensuring that all children are in school. At the same they have mobilised local resources. In most schools rather than wait for the government to supplement the infrastructure the community has come forward to support not only additional teachers but also contributed funds for expanding the school building. Similarly the youth have organised a Forum for Liberation of Child Labour. The forum takes up campaigns, marches, petitions against child labour. They also organise mass meetings and rallies. Specific cases of children are taken up by village committees established for protection of child rights which are monitored by the youth forum. All the forums meet at regular intervals to review, plan and implement the programme of elimination of child labour.


Systematic extension work has been the key factor in all MV Foundation programs. The first round of discussions has invariably been with the community leaders, youth and parents. In the initial years of its work, however, the MV Foundation activists had to be trained to counter all the normal queries relating to this issue such as
  • Will studying guarantee a job?
  • How will we cope with the loss of income now that the child will stop working?
  • Who will do the work within the household which the child was performing?
  • Once the child gets educated he refuses to work in the field or even in the village and ends up becoming a "good-for-nothing".
In initiating these discussions the MV Foundation has taken advantage of the fact that despite these perceived difficulties there is little opposition to the basic concept that it is desirable for the children to study rather than go to work. Community level discussions always bring out examples within the village, which indicate that none of these problems are insurmountable. Initial surveys carried out by the youth volunteers also serve to provide concrete examples that clearly demonstrate that the above problems have not really prevented parents in the same village from sending their children to school. Over the years, however, the success of the MV Foundation program has in itself muted the above objections to sending a child to school rather than to work. The fact that there are now villages where every single child in the age group 5-14 years has been consistently attending school for more than two years has adequately blunted opposition. Interaction between village level community groups, youths and child to child campaigns has ultimately succeeded in generating a momentum for the program.

Once initial level discussions are completed the stage is set for the second phase. This phase commences only after the concerned village or area is ready having completed the formation community level committees and resolved the basic issues of whether and if so how many children are to be sent to school. Only those villages, which have shown a commitment to send all the children to school, are considered for the second phase.

In the second phase the task of identification of specific bottlenecks begins. These normally relate to both child labour and primary education. To the extent of child labour they normally relate to the problem of bonded labour, girl children and other children who have already been committed to work for an employer. Here again once discussions are held at the community level based on a detailed village level survey the difficult 'hard core' cases tend to be clearly identified. This enables specific strategies to be worked out for each of these children. In regard to primary education the problems are usually concentrated around lack of adequate infrastructure including manpower. Insufficient space in the school building, and, more important, absence of schoolteacher are issues usually identified as limiting factors. The involvement of the teacher and the local body representative at this stage is crucial. It is at this stage that a greater understanding of the overall process of sending a child to school is achieved at all levels in the community. Teachers are challenged when their performance is not up to the mark and the community is forced to give commitments for improvements in infrastructure and for providing more teachers. The community in general has fulfilled its commitments through

  • Part financing community teachers to work as motivators and as part time teachers.
  • Providing furniture and other items for use in the class room.
  • Providing labour and donations in kind for construction of additional classrooms.
  • Bargaining with the government and consequent release of funds for additional infrastructure.
The willingness of the community to participate in this fashion is a good index of the scope for success in the village. However it would be both over optimistic and unfair to expect the community to support the program beyond a point in time and the responsibility would have to be taken over by the government.

Education Strategy

The MV Foundation strategy is based on the belief that any effort to universalize education and in effect eliminate child labour should aim to cover the entire set of children outside school and not just a limited age segment. It is only by adopting this approach that it would be possible to hit at the acceptability of child labour and promote a child labour free society. As consequence the MV Foundation's strategy specifically aims at the broad spectrum of ages from 5-14 years and has devised different approaches to different age groups. It is in this context that the MV Foundation's program of a bridge course as a means of inducting older children has been formulated. Recognizing the special needs and capacities of older working children the Bridge course ensures that these children are taught the basics of reading and writing in a manner and at a pace which ensures that in a short time, usually 3-4 months, these children are in a position to join others of the same age group already in schools. In the past the absence of such bridge courses forced even the older children to enroll into school at the lowest grade which only served to de-motivate them in the long run. On the other hand, by giving them an opportunity to interact and learn with others of their age group the bridge course is an ideal method for building up the children's confidence and ensuring high motivational levels even after the child joins formal school. Above all the bridge course is instrumental in increasing the parents' confidence in their children and their ability to join school and compete on equal terms with those who have always been in school. The MV Foundation program also incorporates a 3-4 month residential program for running bridge courses for children coming from particularly difficult circumstances such as bonded labour. For those children in the 12-14 years age group the MV Foundation has a special program of coaching them over a one-year period and making them sit for the middle school leaving examination of the 7th grade.

Impact on Government Policies

The project has resulted in some significant changes in the pattern of thinking at the government level. In the first place it has brought about a realisation at least at the Andhra Pradesh state that there is wide gap between the expectation of the parents and the availability of educational infrastructure in particular teachers. It has also drawn attention to the fact that there is nothing inevitable about the existence of child labour.

The following policy initiatives have been taken up by the government, mainly drawing from the MV Foundation's experiences:

  1. The non formal education centres were hitherto part-time schools which were run either in the night or keeping in view flexibility in timings and seasonal variations to enable children to continue in work. This has now changed. All non formal education centres have been integrated into the formal school system.
  2. In 15 districts of Andhra Pradesh the DPEP has taken up the programme of addressing the issue of elimination of child labour through education on a pilot basis.
  3. The social-welfare department conducts bridge course for children withdrawn from work during summer under the 'Back-to-School' programme in the entire State of Andhra Pradesh since 1997. So far over 300,000 children have been reached out through this scheme.
  4. The Department of Women and Child Welfare has special residential bridge course camps for adolescent girls withdrawn from work in each district.
  5. The National Child Project in the Ranga Reddy district is being implemented in a modified form based entirely on MV Foundation's model of bridge courses. Thus there are no incentives to parents, parallel special schools, vocational training, targetting children in hazardous work alone as envisaged in the original scheme.
  6. The Andhra Pradesh government has initiated a programme of 'summer schools' for older children who have stagnated in classes I and II.
  7. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has issued orders to admit children at anytime during the academic session unlike the earlier instance whereby admissions were closed by the end of August.


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India Committee of the Netherlands - July 3, 2000