He goes to school every day, like a usual teenage boy, attends his classes, studies hard, plays with his friends and waits eagerly for the school bell to call it a day so that he can rush to the nearest bus stand to start the work that will keep his place in school secure.
For, unlike his peers, he sells bags at the bus stand to earn money and pay for his education.
"The results for class VIII were expected to come out that day so I rushed to my school a little early. I wanted to know if my hard work has paid off, and to my delight, it had. I was overwhelmed when my class teacher announced that I had been promoted to the next class with flying colors. More than the results, I was happy about the fact that my work has not affected my studies," gushed Mohammad Aslam, a child from the border district of Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a fraction of second, though, the moment of innocence, ripened into the worry, "How will I manage to buy books for class IX?"
Keeping the new requirements in mind, Aslam set out to hunt for a new job . "People, at times, don't employ me because of my age, or pay less wages, but I have no choice, I will have to accept whatever work or wage I get in order to keep my studies going."
A resident of Marhama village, Trehgam block in Kupwara, Aslam dreams of following in the footsteps of Dr. Shah Faisal, the first IAS topper from Kashmir who hails from the same district. However, in his high aims, he is not considering the fact that Dr. Faisal's mother was a teacher who single handedly raised and educated her children after her husband was killed. She dedicated herself completely to the future of her children.
This little boy who works as a laborer has no one to support his dreams. A half day's escape from studies earns him a scanty amount that barely allows him to bear the expenses of his school fees and books. The irony is that in this quest to achieve his dream, he stakes every day the dream itself; for the time he should devote to his studies is sacrificed at the bus stand where he tries hard to sell the bags and make ends meet.
The district of Kupwara houses hundreds of cases like Aslam. Many can be easily spotted at the Kupwara bus stand. They are well aware of the fact that their impoverished parents cannot afford the luxury of educating them. Even they don't expect that in this fight for education will defeat hunger. But they have faith in themselves.
Some of these children, studying in private schools, are earning their fees by selling plants or handmade bags. Point to be noted here is that the entire hard work is just for the joy of education as not even a single penny is wasted on anything else by these little champs. "I earn roughly Rs. 70-120 every day by selling bags at Kupwara Bus Stand. After appearing for Class V exams, I am utilizing the holidays to sell these bags. This will earn me my school fees," shared the all excited Sheikh Munir Ahmad, 11, whose father sells buttermilk at the same stand, but never earns enough to pay his child's school fees.
The zeal of these children points towards the grave situation of child labour in Jammu and Kashmir. According to an independent survey conducted by Prof Fayaz Ahmed Nikka, the figures stand at a staggering 2.40 lakh in the state alone. According to the report, in Srinagar and its surrounding well-off localities, employing children for household work is common place. Most of these children hail from the backward areas of Kupwara and Rajouri districts.
Child labour is an age old issue well recognized by government at both state and center levels and by various NGOs. Under the Child Labour Act 1986, the government has identified the areas where the number of child labours employed is high and working conditions, hazardous. The government, under National Child Labour Policy and the Indus Project, ordered the District Magistrates of the several identified districts in the country to make everything possible in their power to curb the evil of child labour.
Various recommendations like conducting special schools, providing financial aid to the families of child labour and not allowing children before the age of 18 to work anywhere in the country were some of them. Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) of 1975 has also been very useful. Under the scheme, measures have been taken for physical and mental growth of children falling in the age group of 0-6. In 1995, Mid-day Meal was introduced in schools, and in 2001, an effort to spread education amongst the down trodden was made under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All Movement). Right to Education (RTE), introduced in 2010, could be termed as a milestone in this regard; it provides mandatory and free education to every child between 6-14 years of age.
On the one hand, we have such extensive laws and recommendations and on the other, we have children like Aslam and Ahmad . Implementation of these policies on the ground with sincerity is lacking. In the absence of that bridge connecting the policies to the real beneficiaries, the lives of several Aslams is at stake.
It is not only about the physical labour but the anxiety they go through denies the right of equality to each such child. Children under the age of fourteen are legally barred from getting involved in any job and have the right to free education, but none of these laws seem to apply to the children engaged in earning at the bus stands in Kupwara. Will their dream ever come true?
Greed for money is commonplace, but greed for education or excellence is commendable. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the government and society at large, should come forward to help such children who are keen to be educated, and hope for a bright future By Pir Azhar (ANI).