In a State where official data puts the level of awareness of HIV/AIDS at 98 per cent, large pockets of ignorance continue to remain. This is the finding of a study conducted by the Migrant Forum, Chennai, in 2001-2002 (and published in 2004) at and around Kalpakkam, about 60 km from the city, among potential migrants (those who are waiting to go abroad), labourers who have returned (returnees) and their spouses.
Unskilled Indian labourers in Asian and Gulf countries were the subject of discussion at the consultation meeting on “State of the Indian migrants and their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS” organized by the Arunodhaya-Migrant Initiatives at the YWCA premises on Friday. Read the article in the Hindu.
A comprehensive law should be enacted immediately for Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to ensure free, quality, compulsory and equitable education for all children up to either Standard XII or till 18 years of age, said a manifesto on child rights, passed by the Coalition of Child Rights Networks, here on Sunday.
The self-help group movement, largely confined to women until now, is being extended to men in the city. A non-governmental organisation, Arunodhaya, has established around 20 SHGs for men at various locations since last month. Members of the groups get trained in income generating activities such as servicing of mobile phones, air-conditioners and computers according to their educational qualification.
The National Coastal Women’s Movement (NCWM), a network of women from the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, was formed here on Monday, at a meeting held to observe Rural Women’s Day. The forum will function as a pressure group at the grassroots level in establishing the rights and educating communities about these rights. It will also supervise and participate in the implementation of development projects in villages. Virgil D’Samy and Vasantha, who were part of the organising committee, said the objective was to consolidate the strengths of the coastal women and sensitise both the government and the public on issues relating to them. The idea to form such a network was sparked by Act Now on VAW (Violence Against Women), a movement born after the tsunami, in response to the disaster and the unique position of women post-tsunami. Speaking on the occasion, Adi Dravidar Welfare Minister R.Tamizharasi stressed on the importance of education for the development of women. She also listed the various development schemes being implemented by the Government for women’s welfare. Responding to a demand made by Maglene, a fisherwoman leader from Kerala, the Minister said she would put forth the proposal to recognise fishing women as “workers” before the Chief Minister. Earlier, she released posters on women’s liberation. Salma, chairperson, Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board, urged the women to continue to fight for their rights until they secured them. Pratheep V. Philip, IG, Social Justice and Human Rights, spoke of the importance of positive thinking and the strength of emotional intelligence.
The Confederation of Arunodhaya Children Sangams (CACS) has urged the State government to allow children to take part in grama and nagara sabha meeting to air their views. The one-day annual convention of the confederation, held here on Saturday, said the panchayat and nagar sabhas should hear the views of children on local issues, and they should be incorporated into the programmes and policies of the government and local bodies. Kanimozhi, MP, who released compact discs containing songs composed and sung by children, wanted them to be aware of their rights. Without knowing their rights, it would not be possible to fight for them. She asked them to understand the difficulties of others. Recognising the feelings and pains of others itself would lead to peace. She congratulated the children of Arunodhaya on their social activities. Amarjothi Nayak, regional manager, Action Aid, said he would take steps to set up similar associations in other parts of the country. Virgil D’Sami, executive director of the Arunodhaya, said children sabhas were operating in Karnataka. Arunodhaya children had prepared a series of activities and programmes to present children’s views at grama and nagar sabha meetings. Earlier, the children took out a rally to the convention venue.
Every time 12-year old R. Premkumar jumped into the middle of the road, to stop a passing vehicle, it invited angry stares. But as soon as the youngster took out a sticker depicting a small child washing utensils and pasted it in front of the vehicle, the drivers mellowed. This student of Corporation High School in Rangarajapuram was one of the many children who participated in the sticker campaign against child domestic work here on Friday. Organised by non-governmental organisations Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children and Save the Children, the campaign was aimed at making school children more aware of the rights of children and make them part of the child labour eradication efforts. Interacting with the students, Save the Children national manager – child protection Mohammad Aftab asked the children to be vigilant about child labour in their vicinity. “If you see a small child doing domestic work in the house of your relatives, friends or neighbours call 1098 to lodge a complaint,” he told them. He recalled how a similar effort in Kolkata had made a significant intervention. R. Pavithra, a student, said she had come across several children working but had never intervened on their behalf. “Now, if I see children working I will surely try to save them,” she said. Puppet show Later in the day, a puppet show by Kalaiaraperavai was organised to reinforce the message of eradicating child labour. R. Vidyasagar, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF, released a poster on the theme. Young adults who had previously worked as domestic helps shared their experience at the podium. Virgil D’Sami, executive director of Arunodhaya, said they had launched a new project to make the city a child domestic work-free zone. She hoped that this campaign would go a long way in creating awareness of the rights of the child to education and a life free from abuse. “The project will be implemented in T.P.Chatram, Anna Nagar, Aminjikarai, Kodambakkam, T.Nagar, Choolaimedu,” she said. P.Manorama, chairperson of Child Welfare Committee spoke.
Asmae, a French NGO working with city schools, on Wednesday released the report on the impact of the ‘Reading class programme’(RCP) it has been implementing in partnership with Arunodhaya, Mary Anne Charity Trust and Bro-sign animation. The programme, aimed at improving reading skills of students and encouraging them to read more, was implemented through story cards, games and interactive exercises. In order to evaluate its impact, a study was conducted in 6 schools where the RCP was implemented, and compared to the findings at 6 schools where the programme had not been implemented. The findings pointed to a considerable improvement where students were part of the programme, organisers said. Releasing the report, senior educationist S.S.Rajagopalan commended the organisations that worked on the programme and said there was scope for improvement in its implementation. He said unless students had a good command over language, they could not acquire knowledge in any subject. He said even in the Activity-Based Learning methodology implemented by the State government, language sometimes stood as a barrier. “Students would have a good understanding of mathematical concepts, but could not read and apply them to word problems. This must be addressed,” he said.
After the case of 10-year-old Rameshwari Jadhav being beaten and scalded by her employer came to light, the labour ministry is making efforts to curb the practice of employing children as domestic workers. But not many people are interested in children like 15-year-old R Ragini, an orphan living with her brother and sister, who has been working as a maid in a house in Rajapillai Thottam in T Nagar for 12 years. Ragini dropped out of school when she was in Class III, and can’t even write her own name. If she had been discovered a year ago, legal action could have been taken against her employer for hiring a child in hazardous labour and she could have been rescued and rehabilitated, but now the Child Labour Prevention and Regulation Act (CLPRA) cannot help her since she is over 14 years. An ongoing survey of child domestic workers in the city by two NGOs, Save The Children and Arunodaya Centre for Street and Working Children, shows that there are 35 children being employed in households in Kodambakkam, T Nagar and Choolaimedu, and 22 children in T P Chattram, Anna Nagar and Aminjikarai, many of them between 14 and 18 years. Programme manager of Save The Children in the state Sandhya Krishnan says, “There are weak laws governing the issue. Though child labour has been included as a hazardous form of labour under the CLPRA, it states that only children under 14 cannot be employed in hazardous forms of labour, leaving those aged between 14 and 18 years (who are also children under Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children) without legal protection.” Many of the children in this age group grow up to become poorly paid unskilled domestic workers. Extra-curricular or recreational activities or learning vocational skills is out of the question. To change this, the NGOs are setting up six contact and activity centres across the city where children can spend an hour or two each day learning vocational training and playing games. There are three centres in the city two in Kodambakkam and one in T P Chattram. It gives children the opportunity to play games and learn vocational skills such as tailoring and beauty techniques. Where such centres are not possible, the organisations are talking to resident welfare associations in apartments to allow them to use parking areas to give the children vocational training. E Mala, who handles the centre in Rangarajapuram in Kodambakkam which caters to 23 children between 15 and 17 years, says, “Children can express themselves, increase their self-esteem and have fun. These are things that they never seem to have time for.” Mala, who started working as a domestic help when she was 10, is now studying second year BA History in Quaid-E-Millet College for Women and wants to become a social worker. Through these centres the NGOs hope to have many success stories like that of Firoza in Kolkata, who successfully completed a six-month beautician course. She has since left her employer and returned to her family in Joynagar, from where she commutes five days a week to Kolkata where she is a practising beautician and to continue her training. Firoza is Ragini’s idol. “I just learnt how to apply mascara. Next week I’m going to learn how to shape eyebrows. Soon I’ll be working just like Firoza akka,” she says.
There’s a glimmer of hope for these kids. They now get a chance to go to school and have a place to chill. School, play and homework should have been their main focus but for Ragini, Gayathri and Nandini, life was just endless drudgery.