India is home to one of the largest child labourer population in the world. According to the Census of India 2011, more than 8 million children go to work rather than to school. New Delhi alone has more than 15,000 rag-pickers.
Apart from living in inhospitable conditions, these children, along with their parents, work seven days a week, picking through garbage that is toxic in nature, a serious health hazard they are more than aware off. But they have to because their lives depend on it.
Among such children was Sanam (name changed). She has been a rag-picker since the age of 8.
“After my parents migrated to Delhi from Rajasthan, we thought our lives would change for the better. Struggling to overcome our financial situation, there was no other option but for me to join my parents and younger siblings in working at the godown.”
“It was hard for me especially because I thought that after moving to Delhi, I would get the chance to go to school and college. Then I could get a job and provide a better life for my family. I struggled in the beginning to come to terms with this fact. But I never lost hope.”
More than a year had passed and Sanam was still picking pieces of plastic from mounds of garbage. It was a meeting with a Plan India staff member from the Anti-Child Labour Project that would bring much needed change in her life. Staff members spent time talking and counselling the parents to send Sanam to school. The effort eventually paid off.
Sanam, along with her siblings, soon enrolled into the project and joined the Knowledge Enhancement Centre. Along with the other children, she was given non-formal education. Not long after, one of her dreams was fulfilled when she was enrolled into a government school.
“She is so active in class. The changes we’ve seen in her over the years are truly remarkable. Initially, she was shy and hardly spoke to others, often keeping to herself. Now, she’s the first to raise her hand to answer or ask a question.” – Vishal, Project Coordinator
Today, not only Sanam, but her parents have also given up rag-picking. They now live in a resettlement colony in New Delhi where they can see their children grow up in a safe environment.
“Sanam was always eager to go to school and would often cry when, instead, she had to go to work. As a mother, it was hard for me to see her like this. Thankfully, now my children can look forward to a bright future. And as for Sanam, this is the happiest she’s ever been and that’s more than enough for me.” Nadeema, Sanam’s mother.