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Children at work

Children at work

Author: Ambreesh Mishra
Publication: India Today
Date: February 2, 2009
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=26088&issueid=90

Introduction: School-going teenagers form an organisation to help slum children get an education and a better life.

They are too young to register an organisation, open a bank account or receive donations. Still, the founders of the Children Friends Association (CFA) walk the streets of Bhopal, putting child labourers in school and improving their workplace environment. Their efforts have paid off, with employers admitting 16 children to schools, reducing work hours and introducing weekly off days.

Started on October 15, 2006 by five school students-Jaskaran Singh, Chirag Katyal, Kunal Bindra, Nikhil Gupta and Shubhankar Sharma- CFA has 800 registered members, each of whom pays Rs 15 as annual membership fee. This helps provide slum children with books, bags and stationery. For children in numerous labour colonies, even second-hand school bags and books go a long way in keeping them in schools.

Twelve-year-old Rashmi Malviya, a student of class VII, who lives in the labour colony of Indrapuri with her ailing father, is happy to see CFA members as they have helped her and her cousin, 13-year-old Amrit Kumar Vishwakarma, stay in school.

Similarly, Raja Babu Nair, just 10 years old and the son of agricultural labourers, migrated from Kerala to his uncle Harish for a better future. 'The better future' involved long hours at a roadside dhaba.

Barely literate himself, Harish didn't even contemplate sending the young Raja Babu to school till Jaskaran urged him to. The boy now goes to class V of a government school.

On the other hand, Naresh Khatwani, the owner of a gift shop was so enthused that he not only admitted 12-year-old Devendra Rajput, a helper at his shop, to a school but also tutors him.

CFA came up after Jaskaran and Chirag's school invited slum children for Diwali and Christmas festivities. Shocked by their living conditions, the two fought with their parents and maids to send the slum children to school. Says Jaskaran's mother, Rupneet Manocha, "We had to concede because he was right." CFA bars its members from being over 18 years and wants it to be managed by new members. "We will register a different organisation when we grow up," says Jaskaran. Association secretary, Akshay Kapoor says, "It is a challenge to help everyone go to school but we shall overcome." Well, the future is certainly in safe hands.

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