Projects – Child Rights to Liberty and Education Project

Child Rights to Liberty and Education Project,
Sangamner, Rural Maharashtra, India



The Mandala Trust is delighted to have provided funding to the Karuna Trust and their partner the National Institute of Sustainable Development towards delivering a project giving 3,800 Dalit children the opportunity to access their rights to education, reducing their chances of entering child labour.

Caste discrimination is rife in India, and the caste system, with its endorsement of inequality at birth, condemns millions to a life of poverty and exclusion. One‐third of India’s population, some 400 million people, live on less than US$1.25 a day. One of the most damaging impacts of the caste system is the conditioning of the lower castes, and especially women, to accept their inferior status as part of the natural order of things.

Dalits and others are now challenging these entrenched beliefs and attitudes that trap people in poverty and social exclusion, and aid is necessary to help this process continue. Unless properly funded interventions led by Dalits are implemented, they will remain excluded from the growth of the Indian economy.

The project addresses the problem of poor school enrolment and high drop-out rates among a Dalit bidi (cigar) rolling community in Sangamner, rural Maharashtra, allowing 3,800 children to access their rights to education. Overall, 9,148 members of the community will directly benefit including teachers, parents, young people, care givers and malnourished children.

In these villages, only 65% of children attend school, and just 35% complete primary education, greatly increasing the incidence of child labour. The situation is particularly acute for girls who are often confined to domestic work and who, through the practice of early marriage, find themselves out of school and following their mothers into the extremely noxious work of bidi-rolling.

Baseline research has shown the factors contributing to poor school enrolment and completion are: lack of teacher training and development, lack of relevant educational material, and poor school infrastructure, including absence of separate sanitation facilities for girls. Project evaluations have shown that levels of poverty in the region (65% of the population lives on less than a £1 a day), and poor health and sanitation within the community also contribute to poor educational attainment. In this environment it is not unusual for the children to be unhealthy and inadequately nourished. Without support, they either do not enrol in school, or they soon drop out to become wage labourers or bidi rollers just as their parents before them.

The project works to deliver four principal outcomes:

  1. 36 schools across 25 villages will become government grade ‘A’ or ‘B’ standard (from ‘C’ or ‘D’). This will directly benefit over 3,800 children.
  2. Improved health and well-being of children aged 0-6 encouraging enrolment and retention at primary level. This will directly benefit 3,000 children.
  3. Improved health and well-being of all children and better hygienic practices within the community. This will directly benefit 1,000 families.
  4. Improved access to alternative livelihoods. This will directly benefit 400 youth and 200 women.

This project gives 3,800 Dalit children the opportunity to access their rights to education, reducing their chances of entering child labour. However, as a focus on education is unusual in these communities, the Karuna Trust’s project partner NISD (the National Institute of Sustainable Development) has developed an integrated ‘child rights’ approach, which engages all the stakeholders. The emphasis is on changing attitudes and habits in the community, so that children are supported and encouraged in their education, as well as improving the schools which the local community then feels responsible for.

NISD has a number of Child Resource Centres which are used to organise, educate, train and empower stakeholders, including teachers, government officers, local leaders, youth leaders and parents. Once trained, these stakeholders implement the project activities across the villages. NISD has enjoyed success in setting up Village Education Committees, Parent-Teacher Associations, and notably in getting the support of Local Government departments. There are also Child Activity Groups, such as village ‘Child Parliaments’ which engage children directly and build their confidence and leadership abilities.

Empowering and educating children in this way ensures that they are confident, informed and self-reliant, giving them the best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Other project activities include:

  • School Improvement – like so many rural schools in India, these schools are dilapidated, lacking basic amenities, and have poor quality teaching. NISD works to turn these schools into exciting and inspiring places for children by improving infrastructure, amenities, sanitation and training teachers.
  • Education Awareness Raising and Enrolment Drives – the campaigns will employ a wide range of techniques, including rallies, home visits, community meetings, street plays and operation of pre-school centres.
  • Distribution of Resources – books, uniforms and educational materials will be distributed to the 800 poorest children in collaboration with the government.
  • Supplementary Nutrition – given to all children twice a day, in the form of spirulina candies. Nutrition workshops will be run to target malnourished children.
  • Hygiene Awareness Raising Campaigns – will target people on such issues as water handling, food hygiene and disposal of human and animal waste, and encourage construction and use of toilets and soak pits by 1,000 families. This will help improve health amongst the children, who have poor health indicators.
  • Self-help Groups (SHGs) and Vocational Training – 200 women will improve their literacy and financial skills, learn how to access resources and start small businesses. This learning will be shared with other women through Self-help groups. 400 youths will receive training in areas relevant to the local market such as plumbing, electricity, hospital assistance and jewellery making. This helps low-income families find alternatives to sending their young children to work.