The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brief leave from chores of life

Child domestic labourers are finding their way out of homes and into schools, thanks to the efforts of their more privileged counterparts.

The hidden domestic child labour project which has been underway since 2001 has put over 80 boys and girls into school. Students of the Loreto schools at Sealdah, Entally, Elliot Road and Sealdah, as well as St Lawrence, La Martiniere for Boys and Assembly of God Church have been instrumental in finding 353 kids working in homes, tea shops and even leather factories in their localities.

Convincing the employers that even their ‘servants’ have a right to education was not easy, and the 80 who agreed were not willing to let the children out except for the afternoons. But this was enough. They were then admitted into government schools and Shikshalaya Prakalpa chapters in their localities.

Bringing some magic into these young lives has also been high on the agenda. On Saturday, 232 young domestic helpers — the youngest of whom was six years old, with others as old as 16 — spent the morning at Loreto Day School Sealdah for the Monsoon Magic concert. The tots from the Rainbow project put up a show for them, followed by presentations on the progress made by each of the participant schools.

After much persuasion, employers have allowed the kids to pay weekly and even twice and thrice-a-week visits to teach the domestic labourers the basics. Twenty employers were even present at the Saturday concert.

But others are not so accommodating, slamming the door on students’ faces, claiming their employees have no time to get away from their chores.

The school campaigners have been organised into clubs by locality, but there are some who work alone. Shagufta Parveen, a Class VI student of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, has single-handedly located 28 domestic helps in her area, Tangra, and is working with each one of them on her own.

While the short-term goal is to educate the children, some may eventually find their way into the night shelters run by the schools. “Those who do not have homes may be taken in and those who do have families should study as well as work,” explains project co-ordinator Christine D’Rozario. Past experience has proved that attempts to encourage the children not to work are likely to fail.

Health check-ups have been regular features of the programme, with as many kids as possible being rounded up at Loreto, Sealdah, where specialists visit on weekends. Now, the Lions Club has expressed interest in taking the responsibility of the children’s health through the year. But then, even these free check-ups depend on whether the employers feel they can spare their young hands for a few hours.

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