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Asia

Right to free education not yet implemented

As per India's Right to Education Act that came into effect on April 1 this year, every child aged between 6 and 14 years can receive free education at any neighborhood school. But the new law has not been implemented.

12-year-old Manisha Khandavale works at a brick kiln after dropping out of school

12-year-old Manisha Khandavale works at a brick kiln after dropping out of school

The ceiling fan rattles rhythmically in the small one-room brick house in Tathawade, a village not far from the city of Pune in western India. 12-year-old Manisha Khandavale lives here with her parents and three siblings.

Manisha gathers all the containers together and begins to sweep the floor with a short broom. She has been looking after the household for two years already. Her parents work all day at a nearby brick kiln.

The day begins at dawn for the Khandavale family. Manisha wakes up with her parents. She cooks, washes the dishes and then the clothes.

A school dropout

Manisha attends this summer school run by an NGO

Manisha attends this summer school run by an NGO

Later on in the morning, Manisha is able to steal away a few hours for herself, to go to a summer school conducted by an NGO called the India Sponsorship Committee. Here she meets other children, learns new songs, and does arts and crafts.

Her dreams of receiving a real education vanished two years ago. Manisha seems to have accepted this reality. "I enjoyed school," she says, "but it was expensive, and I had to take care of my brother. There was also a lot of work at home."

Child labor to support the family

Manisha also helps her parents at the brick kilns two to three hours a day: "Till 4.30 p.m. I transport unfinished bricks to the oven. Then we have to get the clay ready for the next day's bricks."

It's peak summer – well over 40 degrees. Yet the scorching sun and stifling heat seem to pose no barrier to the work, which is in full swing at 2 p.m.

Equipped with a headscarf to protect herself against the sun and a wooden slab over her head, Manisha joins the other workers as they carry the bricks across to the kiln. The work seems nearly effortless as she lifts the heavy bricks to the wooden slab on her head, carrying six at a time. Each day, she transports 25 such piles. Her parents receive 17 rupees for her work – barely 30 euro cents.

Manisha's parents Balu und Sarita Khandavale in front of their house

Manisha's parents Sarita and Balu Khandavale in front of their house

Manisha's parents know that child labor is illegal, and that their daughter should be going to school. But they didn't have a choice. The school is far away, and it is difficult to take her there, says Manisha's mother Sarita Khandavale. "Also we cannot afford the cost of schooling. We have to work so hard just so we have enough to eat. One needs so many things for the school – uniforms, school bags, books, pencils. We cannot afford so much."

School still charges fees

As per India's Right to Education Act that came into effect on April 1 this year, every child aged between 6 and 14 years can receive elementary education at any neighborhood school. Child rights activists have welcomed the new law, but have also expressed their doubts as to how effectively it can be implemented. An estimated eight million children are out of school in India today, most of them girls.

The Khandavales – like many other uneducated families – are unaware that there is now an act that grants every child free education. The local government school in Tathawade claims it has received no official intimation about the act from the government. This year too, the school has continued to charge admission fees totaling around 46 euros a year per child.

Manisha's parents earn barely 32 euros a month. So they were forced to make a choice –Manisha, as the eldest child, should contribute to the family income, while her two younger sisters and her brother can continue going to school.

The road to the local government school has no proper footpaths and is often flooded

The road to the local government school has no proper footpaths and is often flooded

Schools need to be accessible and attractive

Yet even for these children, the future is uncertain. The road to school is long, without proper footpaths and close to the highway. In the rains, the roads become flooded, and children have to wade through the water.

The real challenge now for the Right to Education Act is not just to make education compulsory, but also easily accessible and attractive to children, especially those from remote areas like these.

Author: Pia Chandavarkar (Pune)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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