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Vacation spells vocation for some students

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NAY, IT’S NOT A CHILL-OUT: A little boy, who sells sundal, seen on the Marina beach on Monday.
NAY, IT’S NOT A CHILL-OUT: A little boy, who sells sundal, seen on the Marina beach on Monday.

Meera Srinivasan

“Sensitisation of people to the importance of eliminating child labour will make a difference”

CHENNAI: Ramesh* looks barely 10. He struts about on the sands of the Marina, carrying a shiny stainless steel tin of sundal in one hand, and a bowl with small sheets of newspaper, on the other. “Please buy one sundal from me. I have not had any business today,” he says, making a little paper cone for the sundal to be put in. “Just five rupees,” he cajoles.

Just as he puts his earning, a five-rupee coin, into his shirt pocket, his blue and white-checked shirt suddenly evokes attention. The class IV student, awaiting his annual examination results, says he will work every day during vacation. “My mother made the sundal and sent me here to sell it.”

While all children eagerly await their summer vacation, it seems to be employment time for some during this nearly-two months’ break. Suddenly, children are being seen in several small tea-shops, petty shops, restaurants and stores.

Ajith* has just taken his class IX examinations. “I study in our village, but I am here for the vacation,” he says, slicing out a huge piece yam with a knife, at a popular retail outlet of vegetables and fruits. “This should be fine,” he tells a customer, who was waiting to get her piece weighing “just about a kg”. A few other small-made teenagers like him were arranging the coconuts on the rack allotted for it.

The store-owner, however, says: “They are just visiting their uncles working here. Their uncles must have casually asked them to run errands. We do not employ children at all. We will make sure these children are sent back.”

Sudhakar*, who works at a grocery store, delivers drinking water cans. “I have to. My father is no more and my mother is unwell. I would love to go to school, but I know I can’t,” says the 8-year-old. K. Gopal* and his friends, all in class VII, are delivering neighbourhood newspapers once a week. “It is not hard work, and I get about Rs.400 per month,” says the boy, hardly five feet tall.

Need for awareness

Kalyani Rajaraman, director of the Child Labour Elimination Project being implemented by Hand in Hand, a non-governmental organisation working in the area of rehabilitating child labourers, says it is very common for many children from poor families to work during vacation. “We find several of them in tea shops, mechanic units, pappad-making units and so on.”

While a good number of them return to school after the vacation, a few of them decide to continue working to help the family. “Children get used to the money and think they should help their parents and parents themselves are not too optimistic about their children finding jobs after education,” she adds.

The Labour Department, too, is well aware of the issue of child labour magnifying during summer vacation.

Admitting to the increasing numbers of child labourers in the city during the holidays, a senior official of the Department says steps are on to initiate action against those employing children.

Ms. Rajaraman says that while raids help identify such employers, only sustained attempts to create awareness and sensitise people to the importance of schooling will make a difference.

(* Some names have been changed on request)

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