Thursday, October 29, 2009
Child Labor Bridge School Overnight
Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu
With such a massive proportion of India's population living on less that $1 a day (estimates vary, but generally agree on at least 25%), the existence of child labor should come as no surprise. And before getting too self-righteous about it, I reminded myself of the situation in the US not more than a hundred years ago, when poor families also ended up sending children to work in factories under horrible conditions. That said, it is still a terrible situation, but this SAS trip gave cause for optimism. The RIDEINDIA organization was formed in 1984, initially focussing on the widespread use of children as laborers in the silk industry. At that time, more than 40,000 children worked in silk factories - today, the number is 4,000! Progress is being made. The school we visited acts as a bridge school for children between the ages of 5 and 15 who are transitioning from the world of work to school. They can't go straight to normal classes, being essentially illiterate. We visited with 2 very different groups of young students: the first group had been silk workers, and were now in school full-time, the second were still working in rock quarries, and only attended the bridge school sporadically. This little girl was particularly engaging, I thought, grubby as can be, and still works in the quarry hauling out whatever rocks she can carry in her basket after the dynamite goes off.
A huge hurdle, of course, is the situation and attitude of the parents which, in the case of quarry workers, is not good. Desperately poor, many families are essentially indentured, having borrowed money at some point (typically to pay for something like a wedding, or to support an addiction to drugs or alcohol), and then offered the work of every member of the family to pay the interest on the loan.
Apparently, a record number of these quarry children actually came to school the day we arrived - they don't see all that many Westerners, although there are regular groups of volunteers from a volunteer Jewish-American group that work with the school periodically.