Sex workers' children becoming school dropouts

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Kolkata, Dec.22 (ANI): A large number of children of sex workers drop out from school at the secondary level out of embarrassment over their family background or lack of financial support and remedial tuition.

Till primary level, queries from peers on family are limited. But children studying in standard V to VIII are curious enough to ask questions related to each other's family background, residence and profession of parents. But this causes humiliation to the kids of red light areas. Friends often start shunning them or insulting them once they learn the truth.

Tanzia Khatun, a school drop out, said the boys in her class started insulting her once they came to the know her background. Even the teacher started indicating that it was all her fault.

She tells that she developed hatred for going to school after that and despite wanting to continue her studies and join a profession; she quit it after standard VI.

According to a study commissioned by the Women and Child and Social Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal and UNICEF and conducted by the Kolkata-based Jayaprakash Institute of Social Change (JPISC), the high school drop out rates of sex workers' children was also caused due to the inability of the aging mothers to fund their education and lack of space to study at home. Weak students are also unable to get remedial tuition due to economic considerations.

However, the study found that in certain cases child abuse and poor mixing with peers at school and beyond school hours were the major reasons for such hildren quitting school.

Red light areas like Sonagachi in Kolkata have more than one State-run school in the vicinity and the children have easy access to both primary and high schools. The school authorities too cooperate sufficiently regarding admissions etc, according to Professor Joydev Mazumdar, Director, JPISC.

"Dropout rate is very high amongst children of standard V to VIII (in schools), more specifically among the girls. We have observed that the children whose mothers are little aged, their dropout rate is higher because the age of the sex workers has an inverse relationship with the income of the mother. Higher the age, lower is the income," said Professor Joydev Mazumdar.

But things go awry, as there is improper mixing of these children with kids coming from other areas and backgrounds. There is need to promote more intermixing through recreational activities, play groups etc to increase understanding between the children irrespective of background, he added.

The study surveyed 1,200 sample families and found that of the 2,003 children 471 never attended school, 384 stopped going to school in the pre-primary stage, 758 stopped going to school after the primary level, 377 completed secondary level while only 13 managed to continue till the higher secondary level.

Loknath Bhattacharya, who studied up to standard X, said he left school because he was increasingly made to feel like an alien by his peers in school. They treated him as abnormal because he belonged to a red light area.

The study found that all sex workers were keen to see their children receive education and almost all enrolled their children in school. Seventy per cent of the children of sex workers are admitted to schools by the mothers themselves while about 27 per cent were helped by NGOs like CINI-ASHA and Sanlaap to join school.

Bharati Dey, the Programme Director of the sex workers' own Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, pointed out that earlier the school drop out rates were much higher but since the Committee started functioning in the area, there has been a tremendous improvement in the situation.

Money is no doubt a major constraint in educating a child.

According to Professor Mazumdar, aging of a mother and subsequent decrease in her income has a direct relationship with the dropping out of a child. The annual educational expenditure of a child varies from Rs. 100 to 2,099 for lower classes and Rs. 2,100 to 3,099 for higher classes in government schools, some of which are charging development fees and also compelling students to buy various student guidebooks.

Among other things, the study recommended introduction of vocational training courses for children of sex workers, particularly adolescent girls who are pushed into the profession by aging mothers looking for income. As the profession of the mothers, who are busy working in the evenings, affect the infants and minors the most, the study also recommended that the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) Centres have flexible timings and improve on their toilet and other infrastructure facilities. Saving schemes for adolescents, close monitoring of school going children of sex workers etc were some of the other recommendations. By Ajitha Menon(ANI)

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