Mrs Girija Kumarbabu is the Secretary of Indian Council for Child Welfare, Tamil Nadu and has over 35 years’ experience in the social service sector. She serves as a Member in Juvenile Justice Board Chennai and is the Managing Director of Sankalp, a NGO in Chennai that is committed to the cause of promoting the rights of girl children.
She won the Best Social worker award 2009 from the Government of Tamil Nadu with Chief Minister’s Gold Medal and Citation. She was also awarded the Outstanding Woman of the year 2009-2010 by the Inner wheel club-Madras Cosmos.
She has evolved a guidebook for grass-root level workers for training adolescent children and has co-authored a research study on the Impact of legislation on the situation of child labour that was sponsored by National Labour Institute. She serves as a trainer for UNICEF and trains DTERT members on Child rights and child protection.
Girija Kumarbabu shares with Marie Banu her experience and the change in the social work sector over the last 40 years.
Your first engagement as a social worker?
My introduction to the social service as such was during my under graduate years in Stella Maris College. I was really captivated by the services rendered by one nun. She was in the department of Social work and was looking after Shanti Bhavan. She was the one who motivated me to pursue Masters in Social work.
My first placement was in the Artificial Limb Centre, now called Government Rehabilitation Centre. It was earlier part of Government Hospital. I am a basically a Medial and Psychiatry social worker and I worked as part of a research team. The idea was to see how we can completely rehabilitate an amputee. We were getting cases of people getting amputed, either for diabetic gangrene of accident reasons.
I took a break for a while, and then entered the field of child welfare. It has been more than 35 years in this field now.
Do you see any change in the social service sector when compared to what was 40 years ago?
Yes, I should say so. At that time, social work education itself was not very much sought after. But, now I see that it has really branched and this is a welcome sign. People are looking at it more as a profession. Earlier, we had to fight for our identity. Today, we have become more skilled and there are lot more openings for employment.
Just like social work education has undergone change, the area of social work or social service has also undergone change. 40 years ago, you had martyrs and builders in the field of social work. There were large funding bodies and people were doing yeomen work in building people and their capacity. They were not working for personal gains. Only some of them were missionaries. Many were not missionaries, but worked with a missionary zeal and dedicated their entire lives working for people. That is the change that I see!
Being attached to a voluntary organisation, I find it very difficult to identify volunteers. Again, this is the change that has taken over! The more you say professional, immediatelythe word compensation gets into the background. You have trained people, but they do not have the time.
Life has become more complicated and the attitude of people have changed. We are not living in compartments butin an open society where every sphere of activity gets adjusted or accommodated to these changes.I suppose that in the field of social work also, we have become professional but the type of commitment and volunteering has taken a backseat.
How do we improvise this scenario?
You see more and more groups of young volunteers and professionals leaving their job to workfor a cause. This is a good change and a welcome change. Because, we are also identifying new social issues related to the larger social context which calls for really committed leaders.They might not be professional social workers but are committed to the cause for which the want to work for.
What is good for social work – professionalism or passion?
Both are important! They are two sides of the coin. If you don’t have the passion, you will be doing only clerical work. You may have the skills and work, but with not your heart.
If you only have passion and not skills, you can learn the skills anytime. There are many opportunitiesto hone your skills.
Being a member of a Juvenile Justice Board, there must have been several cases that you might have dealt with. Can you share your experience?
I would say that the experience of being a member of the Juvenile Justice Board has been very revealing to understand how society functions and how the marginalised get marginalised by the system as a whole. That is a big learning!
Children come from broken families, some are pavement dwellers and from very difficult family where the father has a criminal record. So, the socio-culturisation of children themselves becomesa huge task and they fall victims to criminal behaviour without knowing that this is a wrong way of life. There is no one to correct their behaviour and there is inadequate support services.
On the one hand you have a group of positive factors that are working overtime and on the other hand there is a vacuum – in terms of services to extend to these children. Both combined, you have a very difficult situation.
The cases related to theft are more related to children from the under privileged background. We do come across children who belong to the upper class. There was a case where a child’s father was a government servant and the mother was a nurse. When a child who commits an offence happens to hail from a poor family, the case is immediately reported by the police. Whereas, when it happens in an affluent family, the child is sent off with a warning and a case is not registered. It depends on the case on how heinous the crime is.
Can you share one case that was challenging to judge?
I had a case of a child who belonged to the fishermen community aged around 11. He was caught for a cell phone theft and had dropped out of school after fourth standard. He has been using drugs and been drinking and smoking. When questioned, he innocently narrates how he has access to drugs. I consider it more heinous to make drugs available for children than the theft that he had committed. That is the way I look at it!
He has now gone on bail and the case will go on. He does not have anyone back home as he does not have a father and his mother lives with her other three children. They do not have a proper house to live in. What is going to happen to him?
Such children are most vulnerable. If you don’t really save them from such situations, you are creating hard core criminals. That is the greatest challenge!
About the family structure today. Your thoughts?
It is really worrying. Most of the families today have only one child. The child growing up with two or three siblings has learning taking place within the family. They learn to adjust to rules, family rules, sharing secrets, and learn to give —all these are part of social learning which is not taking placenow.
Today, there is only one child in a family. This child is indulged even though the parents are very strict. When the child comes to school and meets similar types of children —that becomes a problem as every child is trying to assert himself/herself.