Can you hear their voice?
You probably can’t because you have your eyes, ears and nose covered against the community that stinks, the community that might not live up to your picture of a rosy reality.
Studies suggest that the numbers of waste pickers in Delhi alone are approximately 1,00,000. They further inform us that waste pickers are mostly migrants who flee their cities and villages due to lack of livelihood opportunities.
The irony, however, is that there is still no proper data available on children involved in waste picking in our country although slogans are continuously raised about the ‘Right to Education’.
Children involved in waste picking are among the most vulnerable category of working children. They often work at least 12 hours each day and constantly expose themselves to the danger of accidents, injuries and disease through contacts with sharp material and poisonous substances as they scrounge with bare hands and sometimes even bare feet in piles of waste. It is not only their working environment which is extremely unhygienic and disease-inducing; their living environment is also often equally alarming.
Talking about the government, I have come across a good number of children actually getting benefitted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS), Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Mid Day Meal and other such schemes.
However, no social security benefits are available to workers in this sector. As most of them are migrants, only a third of the households have a ration card. For their children then, illiteracy is deep rooted. Education has been promised from time to time, but this promise is hardly ever kept.
NGOs like Chintan are sweating off to improve the life of these waste pickers yet we see a shrinking presence of the civil society. It is high time to lend an ear to them. High time to give them their childhood, to give them a normal life like your own.
Chintan Learning Center at Nizamuddin has been providing support to 160 waste pickers’ children since 2005 and have given them an expansive exposure of the Akshardham Temple, Indian Habitat Center, Gandhi Samarak Nidhi, India Gate, Vijay Chowk, Little Theatre Group Auditorium, Science Museum, Army camp in Jaipur and the American Embassy among other places.
But you are probably too busy in shaping your child’s career that the faces and voices of the waste picking children remain unseen and unheard.
Wake up! I repeat, “Wake up India!”
The author works as a field coordinator with the No Child in Trash program of Chintan, where he works closely with the children involved in waste picking.