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Out of child labour and into school: The story of Alimjan

Alimjan’s mother did not see any harm in her son’s work, even though he was still a child. On the contrary, she believed that the sooner he learned how to earn money, the better. Read about how an ILO project helped get a boy out of child labour and into school.

Feature | 11 June 2015
Catch-up class for children withdrawn from child labour in Kyrgyzstan
BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN (ILO News) – How does it feel for a working child to see his ex-classmates coming home from school?

“Despair”, “sadness”, “hopelessness” and “shame”: these are some of the words Alimjan used to describe that feeling.

Alimjan was doing well at school, but had to drop out when his father left the family and his mother became ill. As the eldest child, he became a breadwinner for her and for his two younger siblings.

At age 15 he found a job as a porter at the railway station, where he had to move heavy loads, sometimes working until 2 a.m. At first, Alimjan tried to catch up with school, but he often overslept and missed classes, or he fell asleep in the classroom.

Alimjan’s mother did not see any harm in her son’s work. On the contrary, she believed that the sooner he learned how to earn money, the better.

“Such perceptions are unfortunately quite common in Kyrgyzstan, especially among poor families who cannot even afford the costs of secondary education,” says Damira Kadyrshaeva, school director and a voluntary child labour monitor. “What these parents do not realize, is that they reproduce a vicious circle of poverty: lacking proper education, their children, when they grow up, will most likely join the rows of marginalized, unemployed or low-paid workers.”

What these parents do not realize, is that they reproduce a vicious circle of poverty."

Damira Kadyrshaeva, school director and a voluntary child labour monitor
According to the Ministry of Education and Science, there are around 80,000 children in Kyrgyzstan who are not attending school. That includes children who have to work and are sometimes involved in hazardous forms of child labour.

Since 2005, with the support of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC), the government, workers’ and employers’ organizations in Kyrgyzstan have been combating child labour by implementing a series of projects.

One of them was the ILO-IPEC project Combating Child Labour in Central Asia - Commitment becomes Action, funded by the German government.

The project had a strong emphasis on education, among other issues. The key partner for the project’s non-formal education component was the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Kyrgyzstan (TUESWK), supported by the Ministry of Education and Science.

Schools, the ideal platform to combat child labour

“As education professionals, teachers can easily learn and effectively apply participatory training techniques; they guide and support children, they inform children about social problems and risks, and, importantly, advise their parents. And of course, teachers make the best child labour monitors: who else but a teacher is the first one to notice children who are missing classes and take preventive measures,” says Amina Kurbanova, IPEC National Project Coordinator for Kyrgyzstan.

"Collage" is a SCREAM module intended to stimulate creative work in a group
But reintegrating children who previously left school is not an easy task. These children are usually older than others within their grade, are not used to the school schedule and do not integrate well. Many of them feel embarrassed to attend classes because of their age and their difficulties in coping with school requirements.

That is where non-formal education techniques enriched with the ILO-IPEC SCREAM methodology1 proved to be a valuable tool for Kyrgyz teachers.

SCREAM classes helped children to overcome physiological barriers and express themselves through different forms of art.

Trained teachers included SCREAM-based sessions in the extra-curricular activities of 11 pilot schools and shared their knowledge with other school staff.

In 2013, both the SCREAM Education Pack and Non-Formal Education Manual were adapted to the national context and approved by the Kyrgyz Academy of Education, and their use was recommended by the Ministry of Education and Science.

A new beginning

It was thanks to this project that Alimjan’s life has radically changed. Child labour monitors found him at the railway station and invited him to school with his mother.

“We have used all options and opportunities available to us to get this boy back to school,” recalls Marina Kartanbaeva, a teacher. “We showed him and his mother IPEC videos about hazardous child labour. We also spoke to the parents’ council and they purchased books and other school items for him. Food baskets distributed under the IPEC project were also of much help to the family. After the SCREAM classes we could not recognize him, so open and sociable he has become!”

Alimjan has finished 9th grade and has joined a vocational institution where he will train to become a welder.

“The project’s success should be attributed first of all to the concerted national action at all levels,” says Snezhi Bedalli, ILO-IPEC Senior Desk Officer for Europe, Central Asia and Arab States. “Teachers and education authorities are key players and their capacity has been built increasingly with IPEC support. Although a lot still needs to be done, the project results show that we are on the right track.”

World Day against Child Labour – 12 June

To mark the World Day theme No to child labour - Yes to Quality Education, hundreds of events will be organized in some 55 countries on June 12. In Geneva, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and the First Lady of Panama Lorena Castillo de Varela will join a panel discussion with delegates attending the International Labour Conference.

1Supporting Children’s Rights through Education, the Arts and the Media (SCREAM) is an education and social mobilization initiative that empowers children and youth by equipping them with knowledge and skills to actively participate in the global campaign against child labour and bring about change in society. See more at: