Twenty-two year old Rohit Mahato cannot wait for his training period to end at the Bihar Police Academy, not only because he is eager to join the service, but also as being a part of the force would give him an opportunity to take on a social menace, which was a part of his childhood plight.
At all of 15, Mahato had to give up studies and migrate to Surat in Gujarat from his hometown in Bihar's West Champaran district to work at a zari hub and fund his family's basic needs.
He would toil for seven to eight hours every day to earn anything between Rs 8,000-10,000 per month. The teenager along with many of his age had to also cook food and make arrangements for bed in the factory building itself.
"Our wages would depend on the kind of work we did in a day. There were days when I would find no time to contact my family, " he said.
At the police academy, a spirited Mahato says he wants to bury his past, but not shy away from making every possible effort to reach out to more and more children, and make them aware of the menace.
"All that is in the past now... Once I join service, I will make sure I reach out to as many children as possible to check the menace," he said on Wednesday, on the occasion of World Day against Child Labour, urging civil societies, government agencies and the public to end the social evil.
Mahato's journey back to school wasn't an easy one either. His parents were not too keen about the prospect, until the successful intervention of an NGO, which convinced them to allow the boy to complete his studies and find himself a decent job. He made no qualms in admitting that giving up his education, albeit temporarily, was probably one of the biggest mistakes of his life while crediting NGO Child Right and You (CRY) for his return to normal life.
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Development Education and Environment Programme (DEEP), a partner organisation of CRY, approached Mahato's parents several times to explain to them the ill-effects and hazardous impact of child labour, only to get snubbed over and over. One of its members, Bhupendar, sought the help of local community leaders, who then met the family and assured them that their financial needs would be taken care of.
"I tried to reason with them in every possible way," Bhupendar said
"But they refused to budge from their stand, initially. Rohits father, a rickshaw-puller in Nepal, was apprehensive that if the boy stopped sending money from Gujarat, he would have to struggle to manage the livelihood of his wife and two daughters", he added.
The family finally relented after the NGO workers, along with the local community leaders, promised financial support for his academics, the DEEP member added.
Mahato, who had secured first division in Class X, soon joined school and completed his higher education, before appearing for Bihar Public Service Commission Examination.
I understand the mistake I had made. I was immature and desperate to help out my parents. My family lived in abject poverty and I just wanted to allay their woes to some extent. Thankfully, I had the good sense to return home and resume studies. The decision changed my life, Mahato said.
According to Census 2011 data, Bihar accounts for 11 per cent of the total number of child labourers in India. An analysis of the numbers by CRY reveals that around 1.4 million child labourers in India, in the age group of 7-14 years, can't write their names.
Mohua Chatterjee, the programme head of CRY (EAST), feels child labour, as an issue, can never be dealt with in isolation.
It is intrinsically linked to myriad socio-economic factors, including poverty and illiteracy of a child's parents, the family's social and economic circumstances, lack of awareness about the harmful effects of child labour, lack of access to quality education and skills training, high rates of adult unemployment and under-employment, Chatterjee added.