Many of the rehabilitated child workers have set their sights on engineering and medical courses

Reaching M. Muthukumar and P. Vinitha is not easy. While most achievers in the 12 standard examinations are racking their brains over which professional course or college to choose, these two students are busy working, one as a weaver and another, a shop assistant.

The two were child labourers before being rescued and educated by the Labour Department. Muthukumar from Sankarankoil has scored 1,024 out of 1,200 and Vinitha from Kancheepuram 1,033 in the higher secondary exam.

This year, 31 such former child workers have scored over 1,000 marks. Among those who passed out in earlier years, two such students are pursuing medicine and over 80 students engineering. Some of the students are directly rescued from the industry, while others were potential child labourers after dropping out of school.

Vinitha is keen on continuing her education, but she is under pressure to support her family.

The silver lining is that if she gets into college she need not pay any fee, as she will be the first to enter college from her family.

Moreover, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s decision to increase the monthly stipend to all rehabilitated child workers to Rs. 500 until they complete their course will come in handy. Last year, 566 students benefitted from the scheme. As children, Muthukumar and his brother worked in the weaving industry.

His elder brother has completed a diploma course.

A. Shanmugam, possibly the highest scorer among former child labourers, with 1,145 marks, could not remember when he was first sent to work in a power loom. “I was too young then to remember now,” he said. He wants to pursue Medicine, but is not sure whether he will make it to medical college. A. Nithya stopped attending school after standard V. Now with 1,108 marks, she has secured the second place among former child worker achievers.

“My father has no job and we run the family with my mother’s earnings as a tailor. I want to study Electronics Engineering so that I can get a job easily,” Nithya, a student of Vani Vidyalaya from Namakkal district said.

S. Pandisutha, who secured 1,082 marks, used to work in a match factory, but she went to school from the age of eight. Grinding poverty and an uncongenial family atmosphere could not kill her spirit.

“My father is an alcoholic and we were supported by our maternal grandmother. I want to study EEE (electrical and electronics engineering) or EE (electrical engineering) so than I can earn well. I have three sisters after me,” said Pandisutha, who lives in Mettumalai near Sivakasi.

K. Mareeswaran, once a child labourer in match industry, has secured 1,097 marks. He has a clear idea about his future. “Even today, I work as an assistant to masons. It is a field I am very familiar with. I want to study Civil Engineering,” said Mareeswaran, a student of the Hindu Thevamar Higher Secondary School in Sivakasi.

In Tamil Nadu, there are 341 Special Training Centres (STCs) where over 11,000 rehabilitated child labourers are given a bridge course before being mainstreamed in the school system. Every year, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) conducts the survey of the students who dropped out of school because of economic compulsion and update the data.

More details about the National Child Labour Project, implemented in 15 districts in Tamil Nadu, and its beneficiaries can be obtained from tnchildlabour@yahoo.com.

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