Kicking out child labour with football

By Mohammed Rayaan Published on Jun 14, 2018 01:24 PM IST

Chennai: Social worker Thangaraj is not known as master among the children of Vyasarpadi neighbourhood for nothing. He teaches them through sports the value of education and then weans them away from child labour.

To mark 'World Day against Child Labour' on 12 June MJ Mruthula of Big FM spoke to Thangaraj (54) on air along with two of his rescued students, Surya (19) and Jayasudha (20).

Thangaraj, a social worker who runs Slum Children Sports Talents Education Development Society (SCSTEDS), has been working for children's welfare for almost four decades. The veteran child reformer works along with Child Rights and You (CRY) to rescue many child labourers.

He meets child labourers and learns about the problems they face. “These children normally live in places where basic amenities are very poor,' he said. 'They face extreme hardship.”

To bring a thirst for education among the children, Thangaraj, a long-time resident of Vyasarpadi, invites them to play football.

“Football is a prominent sport at Vyasarpadi,” he said. “We used to play for fun. We knew that it will be tough to make children study. So, instead we focused on inviting them to play along with us.” Once that happened, he slowly talked to them about the values of education.

Thangaraj and his team not only promote education through football but also chess, carrom and table tennis, to name a few. Thangaraj adds that football is a sport which makes a person to use his whole body. “It also brings self-confidence,” he said.

Through the beautiful game, they have changed the lives of many children.

Jayasudha and Surya's story is testament to the change sports can bring about.

Jayasudha grew up playing football as a little girl. But, unfortunately, she dropped out of school and started working. “With the help of Thangaraj Master, I joined school again,” she said. Through football she started to achieve many things. She is now pursuing her Bachelor's in Physics and dreams to become a lab technician one day.

She adds that many children get attracted to work by the money they are offered. She speaks to other child labourers to quit working and pursue their education. 'Thangaraj Master helps such children to join school,' she said.

Surya's life has also changed. “Thangaraj Master once saw me washing dishes at work,” says the 19-year-old. “He then invited me to play football. Eventually, he made me enrol in a school. I got interested in studying more after completing class 10.” The young lad dreams of becoming a lawyer one day.

Another major problem Thangaraj faced was convincing the parents of the children. “It takes time to convince them,” he said. “We talk about the benefit of a better lifestyle once their child gets good education.” He adds, “Many families who are deep in debt end up sending their children to work.”

“To stop child labour, all citizens should join hands even if we have no government support,” he said. “Child labour laws are great here but we are not implementing them properly.”

Michelle Baxter, the volunteer action manager of CRY-Chennai, speaks about how one can take steps to stop child labour. “It's not that many people don't know about this issue. Like most of us, we just move on, ignoring it. We should create awareness about it to among neighbours and our family,” she said.

“Get a group together and cover your area. Find out if there are dropouts around your locality and find the reasons for it. Talk to their parents. These are the little steps we can take. Just make sure the area you live in is child labour-free. Now, imagine if a small zone becomes a city free of child labour! It just takes one single person to make a big difference,” she emphasised.