Under RTE Act, mobile schools could be a solution to address needs of migrant labourers, says activist

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 has come into force and the Supreme Court too has upheld its validity. But a question that remains unanswered is: How the authorities obligated to implement the legislation are going to compel the children, especially those of migrant labourers, who do not want to go to school?

A case in point, in the digital era, is of R. Raja, a 12-year-old child labourer engaged in laying underground optic fibre cables for private telecommunication conglomerates. The boy, hailing from a hamlet close to Harur in Dharmapuri district, has been digging the roadsides of Madurai along with his family members for the past few days.

Many have seen him and a girl almost of the same age handle a wrecking bar and a shovel right outside a middle school run by the Madurai Municipal Corporation at Narayanapuram near here. But very few bothered to enquire as to why the children were toiling outside the school campus under the hot sun at an age when they were supposed to be sharpening their intellect inside the school.

Reluctant to speak to outsiders, the boy made contrary statements when The Hindu asked him for the reason behind not going to school. Claiming to be hailing from Salem, he first said that his school there was on leave and so he had come to Madurai to work along with his mother. But when asked for the name of the school, he had no reply.

Enquiries with his grandfather Rengan, working alongside with him, revealed that the family belonged to a hamlet near Harur. The aged man, his daughter and many other family members were employed by a civil contract firm involved in laying underground optic fibre cables. The contractor keeps transporting the employees in a truck from district to district.

"Our job is to lay the cables after digging a 5.5 –foot deep trench along the roadsides. We are paid Rs. 70 for every feet of cable laid underground. Though the contractor does not pay any money to my grandson, his work certainly helps us lay the cables fast and earn more money. I am not averse to getting him educated. But he is not interested. It is his fate. What to do?” he wonders.

S. Syed Ahamed, Director of Foundation for Human Rights and Development, a non-governmental organisation in Madurai, says that children of labourers lose interest in studies because they find the work more attractive than school.

“But that could not be a reason to deny education to a child. A child is a child. Only we, the adults have the responsibility to show them the right path,” he adds.

Section 10 of the RTE Act states that it is the duty of every parent and guardian to admit their children aged between six and 14 in a neighbourhood school for pursuing elementary education and Section 8 defines the term ‘compulsory education’ to mean the duty of the government to ensure and monitor admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child.

Nevertheless, the Act does not speak about how the government or the local bodies were going to ensure attendance of children whose parents keep moving from one place to another very frequently in view of their vocation. It is more so in the case of migrant beggars hailing from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and Rajasthani artisans involved in making curios with plaster of Paris.

The issue could be addressed better by the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights which is yet to become functional in Tamil Nadu.

The Government has called for applications before July 31 from eligible persons for the post of Chairman and six members for the commission. Once this Commission comes up, it could think of many innovative ideas such as introducing mobile schools, akin to mobile courts, for the children of migrant labourers. “At any cost, the government should ensure education to all at no cost,” he concludes.

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The rights lensSeptember 18, 2012