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Child labour: Gujarat govt 'failing to focus' on 95% of Right to Education Act, says NGO

By Our Representative 

A Gujarat child rights network has claimed that the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which came to effect in 2009, is not being implemented in its letter and spirit in Gujarat even after 13 years. Speaking on behalf of the Child Rights Network Gujarat (CRNG), which is part of the all-India network Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), senior rights leader Sukhdev Patel said, the “entire emphasis” on RTE has been only on providing 25% seats to weaker section children in private schools, which “forms only 5% of the RTE Act.”
Patel, an old-time child rights activist of Gujarat whose efforts to be political leader by being the state’s founding-convener of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got aborted in about a year a decade ago, said, enough provisions are there in the RTE Act to overcome child labour, insisting, there is a need to emphasise on 95% of the provisions of the Act, which still remain on paper.
“Children not going to school and joining the labour force is linked with lack of territorial delimitation of admission in primary schools. All children born in a particular area should be admitted in the school in situated of the area”, he asserted while launching the CACL’s 45 day campaign titled “Shram Nahi, Shiksha” in Ahmedabad.
“We are going to put forward the territorial delimitation demand for school authorities to the Gujarat authorities. It is a major provision of the RTE Act. However, nobody appears keen to implement it. According to the Act, while the education authorities have to ensure it is being implemented, its actual groundwork is the job of the local self-governing bodies – panchayats in rural areas and municipal authorities in the urban areas”, Patel asserted.
According to him, “The law requires that they must carry out yearly surveys to find out how many children in the age group 6-18 actually go to school in their areas, and how many do not. This has to be the annual affair, which updating of data each year. However, even 13 years later no effort has been taken to ensure that this.”
He added, “The result is, there is no authentic data on the number of children actually going to school, how many do not and become child workers. Yet the Gujarat government claims at the end of each Praveshotsav, the annual government campaign, 100% enrolment in schools.”
Demand for territorial delimitation for school admission comes amidst closure of 6,000  primary schools, down to 34,000 in Gujarat
Patel’s demand for territorial delimitation for school admission comes amidst as many as 6,000 government-run primary schools having been closed down in Gujarat in the recent past. Down from 40,000 to 34,000, if a senior NGO participant, Sheetal Pradeep of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan contended that her groundwork suggests the closures have led to rise in child labour, veteran academic Prof Vidyut Joshi disagreed, stating, the closure is caused by “we professors criticising government schools as inefficient, leading to mushrooming of private schools.”
Coming down heavily on the way the Gujarat government is implementing the RTE Act, Patel said, “Former chief minister Vijay Rupani ran a long-drawn-out campaign against child labour in Gujarat. We appreciate his commitment to the cause. However, what was the outcome? Nil. Child labour is proliferating in Gujarat. Nothing has changed.”
As for the present primary education secretary, Vinod Rao, he underlined, the senior IAS bureaucrat wants to do “everything himself”, taking upon himself “all the responsibility”, so much so that even teachers are afraid of him. “What is not realised in the process is the need for a decentralised approach to schooling,” he said.
Disputing the Census data according to which child labour in Gujarat the age group 6-14 went down from 4,85,530 in 2001 to 2,50,318 in 2011, and regretting there is no new data for 2021, Patel noted, “Even data provided in the state assembly and Parliament do not tell the true picture.” Added Prof Joshi, there is every reason to believe that child labour would have gone up after the pandemic.
Agreeing, Bipin Patel, former Gujarat government official, said, “In 2004, when I was rural labour commissioner, we had estimated that there were around 32 lakh migrant workers in Gujarat. Currently, according to my rough estimate, there are around 50 lakh of them. Roughly around 20% of these migrate whith children. Most of the children are out of school and toil as workers.” He regretted, despite this, “Government officials appear least interested.”

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