At Govandi, home to the city’s largest dumping ground, the rhythms of childhood are different. For the past two years, Mohammed Raees Khan, 14, has been working as a rag-picker, collecting around 10 kg of waste everyday. It guarantees him an average income of Rs100 daily.
“It’s a frustrating job, but what choice do I have?” said Khan, who has to supplement the family income, as he has three younger brothers.
The International Labour Organisation’s World Day Against Child Labour is on Sunday. But for Khan, the real landmark day will be Wednesday, when he begins his first day at school, after dropping out four years ago. He is among a host of children working as rag-pickers in Govandi, increasingly moving towards accessing education.
In 2008, when non-profit group Pratham surveyed the dumping ground area, they found 722 children who worked as rag-pickers. When they surveyed the area again in 2010, they found that figure had dropped to 337 children.
Even the number of children simply roaming around in the dumping ground vicinity had dropped from 603 to 157.
“Many of the children are now studying thanks to the efforts of different non-profit groups working in the area,” said Kishor Bhamre, assistant director, Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children. Bhamre estimates that of the entire population of rag-pickers in the area, 10% to 15% are children, under the age of 14.
The Right To Education (RTE) Act has provided further impetus. “The RTE Act helps in resolving the child labour problem by ensuring the availability of schools,” said Puja Marwaha, chief executive officer, CRY. On Monday, CRY, along with the BMC, will start a campaign to enroll children in schools in the new academic year.