ODAM confronts Child Labor

American volunteer Kelsey Stark, who is currently working with ODAM, writes about the problem of child labor in Tamil Nadu.

Child labor is a serious issue in Tamil Nadu, India, as in many parts of the world.  Young girls are especially likely to be forced into child labor to support their families, as their education is not as valued as that of their sons.  When an impoverished family is struggling to feed or clothe their children, they are more inclined to force their girls into manual labor, often in textile industries, cotton mills or brick factories. Sometimes they are simply kept at home to help with household duties.  Entering the workforce introduces young girls to horrible and often dangerous conditions and dashes their hopes of receiving an education.

ODAM’s Narikudi based primary School and Girls Hostel provide an opportunity for these child laborers to reintegrate into the mainstream education system, offering them a safe and healthy place to live while completing primary school (KGBV) and secondary school (while living in the hostel).  Often families are reluctant to lose the income of their child in return for an education, so ODAM works with the families to facilitate understanding of the importance of education and persuade them of the safety and value of ODAM’s school and hostel.

This story, although not uncommon, unfolded in the situation of 14 year old Muthu Meena. Muthu Meena was a former child laborer enrolled at the KGBV School.  Upon completion of the 8th standard, unfortunately herfamily decided to return Muthu to work in the cotton mills.  After a year of hard labor, ODAM was able to convince Muthu Meena’s family to allow her to return to school and live, free of charge, at the Barathi Girls Hostel.  Muthu’s is now happy and thriving in the 9th standard and living in the hostel.

ODAM’s commitment to the provision of free education in rural India is offering a bright future to many young girls, who would otherwise have few opportunities.