When they finished speaking, some of them were visibly relieved when the audience broke into rapturous applause. Some gave disbelieving smiles at the applause before walking off the stage after recalling their days as child labourers, their subsequent rescue and enrolment in schools and the marks they had scored in the Class XII and X examinations.
The occasion was the State government’s annual prize distribution ceremony to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of these children who rose above the shackles of child labour to become examples for others of similar predicament. The ceremony was held on the campus of the Ethiraj College for Women, and saw the participation of Labour Minister KT Pachamal, Labour Secretary Mohan Pyare, Labour Commissioner B Chandramohan, Rajya Sabha MP N Balaganga and Chennai Mayor Saidai S Duraisamy.
Pachamal reaffirmed the Jayalalithaa government’s commitment to make Tamil Nadu a child labour-free State, and outlined the various schemes that the government was implementing on its own as well as in partnership with the Centre to address the issues.
It was certainly a moment in the spotlight for the former child labourers who took the stage.
A rousing reception was given to Rajeshwari of Virudhunagar District. “I am from a small village near Sivakasi. I had been rescued and put in school under a government programme. I scored well, and I am now working as the headmistress at a government school. It is my aim to always teach people what is possible, and show them the values of not sending their children to work. I will continue my efforts on this front forever,” she said.