As kids, they stuck labels on matchboxes, mixed sand and cement at construction sites with their little hands… But today, they are doctors and engineers, thanks to the National Child Labour Project’s rescue efforts. Four successful youngsters, who were once child workers, share their stories

M. Sankaralingam, Police constable

(Rescued from: Match works industry)

Seven-year-old Sankaralingam earned Rs. 20 a day for wrapping matchboxes at a factory in Sivakasi.

The money supplemented his farmer parents’ income; school was hence out of the question.

The kid spent almost two years of his life stacking and packing matchboxes inside tiny rooms. Little did he know then that 25 years later, he will be on bandobast duty on the bustling streets of Madurai dressed in starched khakis.

A Grade II constable with the Madurai City Police, M. Sankaralingam recalls how he was rescued by staff from the National Child Labour Project (NCLP).

“People from NCLP came to our village for a census on children who didn’t go to school,” he says. They spotted Sankaralingam, and convinced his parents to send him to their special school.

Sankaralingam says he will never forget the day he walked into the classroom in his new uniform and with freshly printed books.

He says, “Had I not been rescued, I would have been doing some menial job. But now, I guard the city day and night.”

E. Rajeswari, Headmistress

(Rescued from: Match works industry)

Rajeswari is the headmistress at the Panchayat Union Primary School, Odakkarai in Ramnad district. As the first woman in her village to have secured a government job, she is proud of the life she leads. Rajeswari started working when she was 12 years old. She stuck labels on matchboxes at home with her family to earn Rs. 10 a day. They worked form 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., sometimes even longer.

Relief came in the form of NCLP. “The staff came home and asked my parents to send me to school. They said that I will be provided a monthly stipend, taught tailoring and basket-weaving.” After a week of goading, Rajeswari’s parents gave in. She went to school, and did a teacher’s training course with 1,014 marks in her Higher Secondary examinations.

In 2001, Rajeswari became a government school teacher. The next year, she brought electricity connection to her house in Thiruthangal near Sivakasi. It was a novelty to her family whose evenings thus far unfolded under a kerosene lamp.

M. Moorthi, Medical student

(Rescued from: Construction work)

Moorthi is on his way to becoming a radiologist. An MBBS student at Salem Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College, he discontinued school after Class V to become a construction worker. He supported his mother and siblings with the Rs. 80 he made a day.

It was a Pongal day when the staff of NCLP rescued Moorthi. Going to school was all that he wanted at that age. For, he stood class first in all his exams till Class V. “When I quit school, I thought, ‘This is it. It’s all over’. But looks like it’s not,” smiles Moorthi.

Mohan Govintharaj, Software engineer

(Rescued from: Silver anklet industry)

Mohan detested evenings as a little boy. His employer sent him out to pluck flowers from plants at the entrance of the workshop’s building. That was when the evening bell of the school in the vicinity rang out. As chatty kids walked home past him with their school bags, Mohan felt sad. Why wasn’t he there with them? He was making bells for silver anklets when children his age were studying. NCLP came to his rescue, and today, Mohan is a software engineer in Chennai. “There is no electricity connection in my village; as children, we studied under the streetlamp. Passers-by would scold us for sitting by the road… the situation has not changed even today,” says Mohan. As the first engineer in his village, Mohan took the initiative to talk to the district administration about the problem. “They have promised us a solution,” he says.