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School dropouts prefer to work

Kavita Kishore
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Common to see children working in dangerous conditions

Playing with fire:Boys preparing chips on the roadside in Puducherry.Photo: T.Singaravelou
Playing with fire:Boys preparing chips on the roadside in Puducherry.Photo: T.Singaravelou

Despite the government’s claims that there is no child labour and that the school dropouts are at a minimum, several children like Jayaraj (15) and Ganapathy (12) can be seen working in potentially dangerous conditions.

Few steps have been taken to curb the employment of these children. Despite the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, there are still many dropouts.

Jayaraj and Ganapathy dropped out of school to man a small chips stall on the side of the road. While Jayaraj had been working there for over a year now, Ganapathy just joined him a few months ago.

They both say they did not learn much in school and they were happier to work here.

“It is normal to sustain small burns and bruises. I am used to it by now and if I get hurt I either ignore it or I buy some medicine. Nothing major has happened so far, despite working with hot oil and fire,” he says.

They are constantly stoking the fire. While Ganapathy is a little afraid of getting burnt, Jayaraj says he is used to it. Ganapathy said in the early days he used to cut himself on the slicing machine often.

“The stall owner knows us, so he decided to employ us here. We work every night from 5 p.m. till midnight and sell chips worth Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000. On a good day, we take home Rs. 200. This is more productive than going to school,” Ganapathy says.

Although Jayaraj is over 14 years of age, Ganapathy is underage and his working at the stall is a violation of both the RTE and the Child Labour Act of 1986. Neither the Education Department nor their family have made any concerted effort to wean them back to school. In fact, their families are happier now that they are earning.

According to an official from the Education Department, dropouts are not a major issue in Puducherry, since the natives of the Union Territory are very knowledgeable on the need for education.

The enrolment rate in the Union Territory for students from Class I to Class VIII is between 98 and 99 per cent.

Many of the dropouts that stay here are from nearby towns in Tamil Nadu. Additionally, they had started a program to re-enrol students and out of the 258 identified dropouts in Puducherry, 90 students were brought back to the mainstream. They were taking action to identify the other dropouts and ensure that they were back in school.

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