For a book in tender hands

Anasuya Menon

Coimbatore: For eleven-year-old Suganthi (name changed on request), the day used to begin at 4 a.m. She had to cook for a family of three, do the dishes, wash clothes, and clean the house.

She was a domestic help at Thanneerpandal in Palakkad district, Kerala.

Employer abuse

Suganthi's parents - construction workers at Theni - could not afford to raise her and her younger brother. She was sent to a house where she was made to work dawn to dusk without wages.

She was even abused by her employer often. "I was not even allowed to speak to my parents over phone," she says. Her younger brother worked at a tea stall in Coimbatore.

She and her brother were rescued from their workplaces two weeks ago by Native Medicare Charitable Trust (NMCT), a non-Governmental organisation (NGO), and brought to Vimuktha - a school set up for child labourers at Kanuvai. Suganthi has been admitted in Class VII and loves her new role as a student.

The NGO's campaign on Child Rights in Coimbatore is from November 14 to 20. They have rescued nearly 200 child labourers from brick kilns, tea shops and quarries in Palappanaickenpalayam, Thadagam, Somayampalayam and Kanuvai.

Meagre wages

These child labourers are migrants from Madurai, Dharmapuri, Salem and Kodaikanal. "Most of these children come with their parents and are made to work for meagre wages of Rs. 30 to Rs. 40 a day," says Sankaranarayanan, Managing Trustee of the NGO. They have set up 17 schools - Bridge Course Centres - in Coimbatore. Eight of these Centres are for migrant child labourers and nine of them for play school children.

After a year's education at the Centre, the children are integrated to regular schools with the help of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.

"The teachers in these Centres are the ones who identify the child labourers and bring them to school," says C. Duraisamy, Project Director.

They also plan to cover Prabhu Nagar and Indira Nagar in Kovundampalayam, where there are many child ragpickers. "We classify these children under high-risk group as most of them smoke, drink and have diseases," says Mr. Sankaranarayanan.

Income generation

An income generation programme for the parents of these child labourers have also been begun by the NGO. Depending on their ability, they would be given financial assistance to start small enterprises.