Telangana: Underprivileged children pushed into child labour due to lack of Aadhaar

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 clearly states that 'No child shall be denied admission in a school for lack of age proof.'

Hyderabad: The lack of identifying documents is pushing many children from city slums into a life of child labor, said local activists. Among the underprivileged and most affected are children of migrants, who are denied admission into government schools despite possessing an Aadhaar card as well.

According to activists, a 12-year-old boy from the Jawahar Nagar slums in Hyderabad was denied enrolment in the nearby government school recently. “He did not have an Aadhaar or birth certificate. His parents gave up trying to enrol him in school and chose to take him along with them to construction sites, where he now works as a labourer,” said an activist, who did not want to be identified.

Same is the case with 12-year-old Jaya, who is now a rag-picker to support her family after being turned away from the government school for a lack of identifying documents.

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Telangana’s invisible children

Speaking to, a senior official at the Telangana Department of Education said that Aadhaar is not mandatory for enrolment into government schools. “Aadhaar is only asked of children to link them to the system. Schools might ask for it to prevent bogus enrolments. Children can, however, be enrolled with other documents,” he clarified.

Activists on the ground in Hyderabad and Telangana know that this is not as simple. “As we closely work with the grassroot communities, it’s sometimes extremely difficult to mobilise some of them into the formal schooling system without these basic documents. For example, we work with the Pittala community and none of them in their entire lineage have any documents whatsoever,” Hima Bindu, a child rights worker in Jawahar Nagar, said.

She added that underprivileged children who are as old as 15 years have never been enrolled in school, and indulge in seasonal labour. Bindu also said that facilitating Aadhar enrolments on a case-to-case basis is a herculean task, keeping these community dynamics in mind. This again brings “access” in question, and surely needs a convergent systemic intervention.

The problem runs deep. Many children are born into families without identifying documents. They grow up never being added to the ‘system’ of Telangana’s education department. As it stands, they are unidentifiable, untraceable, and from the government’s view- they do not exist.

A disconnected government

A huge disconnect is clearly visible. The Telangana government, with all of its resources and power, is wholly unaware (or unbothered) about the reality of students in Telangana. At the time of enrollment, a school inputs the child’s Aadhaar number into a Student Info portal, where information about their previous studies would be displayed.

With an Aadhaar card from a different state, what pops up is an empty screen in the Telangana government’s database. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 clearly states that ‘No child shall be denied admission in a school for lack of age proof.’

A circular from the Union government, dated September 2018, reads, “Some instances have come to our notice that few schools are denying admission to children for want of Aadhaar. Such denials are invalid and not permitted under the law. It is also to be ensured that no child should be denied admission and other facilities for lack of Aadhaar.”

Additional State Project Director (ASPD) Ramesh, from the Telangana education department, says that a child cannot be denied enrolment under any circumstances. “It falls under their Right to Education. Even in the case of a lack of all identification documents, the children should be given an education under ‘age-appropriate’ enrolments.”

A teacher’s dilemma

While conversations about what the system should be like are held, the reality is that underfunded, over-burdened government schools force many students to never enrol for reasons like a lack of Aadhaar. In many schools, tens of teachers wrangle with classrooms of hundreds of students. They do not have funds for more uniforms, text books or midday meals.

Kamala*, a teacher in a government high school in the Medchal district, said that Aadhaar and Transfer Certificates (TC) are almost always mandatory for enrolling children in Telangana. “We have to enter the number into the child info portal. If we take in a child without a TC, we have to map them in the info portal, for which an Aadhar is compulsory.”

She added that some children are enrolled even without an Aadhaar card. “We then have particular periods of time allowing them to present an Aadhaar card after they join the school,” she added. To even enrol for an Aadhaar cards in Telangana, Mee-seva centres ask for birth certificate or address proof.

For children born of natural, at-home deliveries, birth certificates are a luxury, points out Hima Bindu.

An avoidable outcome

Denied an education, these children in Telangana are then made to accompany their parents into child labor to make a few extra rupees for the family. Eventually, they lose their drive to go to school, intimidated by the learning gap with their peers. Families also cannot afford losing a source of household income. This is how Aadhar, meant to be an ID proof, becomes a burden.

‘Special’ Aadhar enrollment camps have to be held at schools to ensure that children without any supporting documents are still registered as citizens.

The circular from the union government also stresses upon the responsibility on the state government to organise Aadhaar enrolment camps in all the schools at least twice a year by making school-wise roster for the same through its education department and district administration.

“If the government can ensure that both Anganwadis and Schools have regular Aadhar enrollment drives during admissions in their premises, it might largely address the issue and prevent many children from dropping out. To ensure this, a strong convergence between UIDAI, Education Dept and WD&CW may be required, and a long term roadmap to address field realities is needed,” said Chennaiah Badugu, Senior Manager at Child Rights and You (CRY).

*Names changed

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