Essay On Child Ragpickers

Shared by Vinika Koul, PRIA

June 12, marked the 10th anniversary of the World Day against Child Labour, an effort to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the actions and efforts needed to eliminate it.

Recent estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO) state that about 215 million children worldwide are involved in child labour, with more than half this number involved in its worst forms.
India has an estimated 17 million child workers – the highest incidence in the world. According to a report by UNICEF, about 12 percent of children in India aged 5-14 are engaged in child labour activities, including Rag Picking

Many children begin working as rag pickers at the young age of five or six years. In a study that PRIA recently undertook under Democratizing Urban Governance: Promoting Participation and Social Accountability, it was revealed that in Patna and Raipur about 26-20% of total rag pickers in the city are children between the age of 5-14 years, while 40% of the total dump site waste pickers were children, which is a huge percentage. These are children who do not have access to education and are subjected to intense health threats.

In 2001, waste-picking was included among the hazardous occupations banned under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. But apart from this very brief mention, Rag picking is ignored in legislation regarding child labour. Contrary to most child labourers, ragpickers are self-employed or working with their parents and therefore not answerable to any employer.

Efforts towards improving poverty stricken condition of these children rag picker is limited and even if taken are not yet sustainable. One such un-sustained project was night shelter project” started by the Chennai Corporation in 2009 near the Kodungaiyur dump yard, where many child ragpickers had been rehabilitated.
In fact, many of them have taken up the mission to find underage workers in their neighbourhood and bring them back to school.

One among the rehabilitated children, S. Anand (12) was invited by the Appalachian University in the US to share his experiences last month. “My brother Surya and I were born and brought up in the dump yard locality.
It was our world. The huge mounds of waste looked like a treasure trove for poor children like us. When the night shelter was started, we were asked to stay there. We were given free bridge courses to pick up our studies.
Initially, many of us went back to the dump yard. But we were encouraged to study, though our scores were low,” said Anand.

Along with Anand, more than 20 children from Kodungaiyur, and from the platforms of Egmore and Central station were rehabilitated in the shelter. They were enrolled in bridge schools and later to regular schools.
The amount of love given to the children by Ms R. Isabel, executive secretary of Madras Christian Council of Social Service (MCCSS), authorised by the Union government, and her team members, boosted the children to perform well in their studies and extracurricular activities.

The night shelter project ended in early 2012 for unknown reasons and unfortunately the children, now residing at the MCCSS premises, have gone back to working.

Terraurban expresses the utmost need for civil society at large to work towards improving the conditions of these child rag pickers and strengthen our voices on various dimensions of urban poverty affecting our cities.

Source: PRIA’s Study/

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Tagged: Child Labour, Patna, Rag Pickers, Raipur


The rag picker, with a gunny bag on his shoulder is a universal pitiable figure in all the metropolitan cities in India. One can find a Ramanna in Chennai, a Ramnath in Delhi, an Edward in Cochin, a Karim in Kanpur, and Balu in Chandigarh dressed in shabby clothes moving in the lanes and by lanes of these beautiful cities. The rag picker, a dirty boy, moves with a small stick to shoo off the street dogs. None sympathizes with him. No one takes a pity on him. He is rather a hateful sight in the posh localities of New Delhi and Mumbai for the collects dirty rags from heaps and mounds of rubbish.

The rag picker, generally below teens, is no one’s child. He might have come from a remote village. He might have been abandoned by his parents. He may be working under a slum mafia who has provided a roof to him to sleep. But in many cases he is an orphan who sells his rags in the evening for rupees ten to twenty and after meals sleeps anywhere in the open.

Like animals a rag picker braves the scorching heat of the summer or shivering cold of the winter. He can’t complain to anyone. None would listen to his crying heart. When the children in posh localities would sleep comfortably on foam cushions with their pets dog the rag picker would embrace the street dog to find some warmth in the cold night. His childhood has been snatched away from him by the apathetic society. The rice or chapatti hawker at the street comer is his only friend who would provide him food for a few rupees. Dirty unbathed body, dirty clothes, dirty rags, dirty chapattis and dirty dishes is his whole world.

But a rag picker is a human being. He has sentiments and emotions. He too has his dreams however childish they may be. He too fancies of a bright future. But he is crushed every day. His dreams are never realized. He wants to forget them or to have more superficial fancies. He goes to the panwala in a lane of Kalba Devi in Mumbai, Connaught Place in New Delhi or Annasalai in Chennai. He exchanges 50% of his income for a dose of smack or brown sugar. He is in his land of fancies. But he becomes a drug addict and invites death much before his youth starts.

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