Aspat, Sheikh and Salma were among hundreds of rag-picking children who went to special transitional schools under a India-US joint project in five states. But they are now back in dirty landfill sites picking rag, after the government failed to deliver the promises made while enrolling them.
“I was promised Rs 100 per month for attending the school regularly,” 10-year-old Sheikh, enrolled in a special school in Bhalswa, north Delhi, told HT at a landfill site, where he was picking metal from household garbage with five other children.
“Even a bank account in my name was opened but the money did not come. Today, I earn Rs 20 every day, which fetches me food and some money for my five younger brothers and sisters,” he said.
The Delhi government’s Labour Department opened a bank account for 2,300 children in March 2009, but many of them did not get any money. Of the 30,000 books published for disbursement in 42 education centres, only 5,000 reached the beneficiaries.
“These books are locked in a labour department office in Janakpuri,” said a volunteer of the project called INDUS.
The $40-million (about Rs 188 crore) project funded, shared by Indian government and US Labour Department was launched in 2005 in 20 districts of four states — Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and UP — and entire Delhi to improve livelihood of 80,000 child labourers in 10-14 age group by inducting them into transitional educational centres and upgrading their skills.
The project ended in September 2008.
“Of the 40 children in a school, 30 are back into ragpicking,” said a teacher with a north Delhi INDUS centre, on condition of anonymity.
“These schools gave us nothing. Neither education to our children nor the money promised,” said Ashifa Begum, whose two daughters were enrolled in a special school in Bhalswa, an unauthorised colony next to Asia’s biggest landfill site. “At least by rag picking they earn something”.
“It was bound to happen,” said Amod Kanth, head of Prayas, an NGO that operated 14 special schools under the project. “There was no substitute for INDUS after the project ended. In the last eight months not a single penny has been provided for education of child labourers”.
Kanth, who is also chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and Rakesh Senger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a UN award winning NGO, blamed the non-serious attitude of the Labour Department for the failure.