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Correspondent Friday, 16 November, 2001, 19:00 GMT
Whose life is it anyway?
Manjula
After waking at 0300 to collect water, Saraswati starts at 0900 her six hour shift as a domestic worker
Live webcast with Sue Lloyd-Roberts
19th November 2001, 15:30 (GMT).
Please click on top icon on the right "FORUM".


We have had a huge response from you. Many of you have been requesting contact details for organisations in India and the UK.

Click here for contact details




Click here for transcripts

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which marks its 12th Anniversary this week, says that children should not work and that the views of children should be respected. Sue Lloyd-Roberts has been to India to ask the working children there what they think.

It is 0300 and out of the darkness of the slum, small figures in brightly coloured clothes can be seen emerging from their dwellings.

They stand waiting around the water tap. The water comes on any time between 0300 and 0500 The group of 12 to 14-year-old girls make two or three trips back from the taps, laden with heavy water pitchers, to their homes.

At 0900 they go to work for six hours in the smart apartment blocks across the road. These girls are the domestic workers of Bangalore.


Who else is going to feed us if we don't work?

Suraj
It is 0400 and 1000 miles north in Delhi, 15-year-old Suraj nudges 12-year-old Parvez. They must start early if they are to get the pick of the rubbish in this, one of the poorest cities in the world.

Having to work

These child ragpickers collect for four hours, sort the spoils into paper, plastic and metal and take them to middlemen in exchange for a few rupees. It is just enough for food and the minimum of clothing.

Suraj
Suraj collects litter for a living
What do the boys say to those organisations who say they should not work? Fifteen-year-old Suraj, who left home because there were too many mouths to feed, looks at me incredulously.

"Who else is going to feed us if we don't work?" he asks.

The girls are equally philosophical.

"I have to work so that my brothers can go to school" says 12-year-old Sumithra.

"My mother had to take out a loan when she was sick and all the money she earns goes to paying it back."

National Movements

None of these children would call themselves victims. On the contrary, they are familiar with ideas like rights and empowerment.

Hasiru Sangha
The girls in Bangalore attend their collective, Hasiru Sangha

The girls have formed a collective, Hasiru Sangha, which is supported by a local charity, the Association for the Promotion of Social Action. It is the nearest thing to a local community action group that the slum has to offer.

It is they, not their parents, who go to the local water board to complain about the water supply. And even if they have not got the time to go to the local government school, they round up other children in the slum and make sure that they do.

The boys in Delhi attend meetings where they discuss issues like health care and police harassment. If one of their members is attacked, they go to the employers and police chiefs as a group to complain.

Earlier in the year, the red-turbaned coolies at Delhi station alleged that the boys were after their jobs and asked the police to remove them. The boys arranged a meeting, explained that they were rubbish collectors, not porters and the coolies backed off.

These are two of the growing number of working children's collectives which make up India's National Movement of Working Children.

The boys' newspaper battle

The boys even have a monthly newspaper. Anuj presides over the editorial meetings where they decide to write articles which will, they hope, make people more sympathetic.


We write so that people will understand our problems and so that they know that working children too have rights

Anuj
They run articles entitled: "Why children run away from home" and "Why street children have to work". The paper is published as a wall poster with the help of a local charity called Butteflies.

"We write so that people will understand our problems and so that they know that working children too have rights."

Armed with buckets of home-made glue, and with the rolls of the latest edition tucked under their arms, the boys venture out to the poster hanging districts of Delhi.

Pasting newspaper
In Delhi the boys paste latest editions of their newspaper on the walls.
They work furiously, pasting the wall with speed and determination, convinced that if only they can get these articles read then people will stop attacking them.

The police disagree. They surround the boys and start tearing the posters down. I ask the police officer in charge what the problem is. He demands that they get permission in writing to put the papers up.

A couple of months ago the boys were taken en masse to the police station where they were accused of being paid to put up the papers.

The boys were furious and explained that it was their paper, they write the reports and no one pays anyone. While the boys say that they just want to explain their lives, the police suspect conspiracy and subversion.

That is the view of many of the organisations in Delhi whose remit is to help children.

Kailash Satyarthi
Kailash Satyarthi of the South Asia Coalition Against Child Servitude believes that there are "masterminds" behind the children's unions, some misguided people who have "romantic ideas about child labour."

"They accept that child labour is a reality and that it will continue. That is absolutely pessimistic. We must all be totally against child labour."

No-one listens

The girls are arguing for their rights as workers and as consumers. But, when they march barefoot into town to confront the officials at the water board, they are fobbed off and sent from one building to another.


If the government only attacked poverty instead of us, then we would not have to work

Sarasa
"The truth is", says the leader of the group, 16-year-old Sarasa, "that the government does not want to talk to us because they don't want to hear the truth."

And what is the truth?

"If the government only attacked poverty instead of us, then we would not have to work. If our parents had jobs, then they would not have to send us out to work.

"I have written to the local government, I have written to the Indian Government, I have written to the U.N. but no one has replied. No-one listens."


The producer of the programme, Jane Gabriel, reports on what has happened to the children featured since the making of the programme. Please click on "update" icon on right hand side of this page under the "forum" icon.


CONTACT DETAILS

Butterflies

Rita Panicker,
Butterflies Program of Street and Working Children
U-4, First Floor
Green Park Extension
New Delhi 110 016
Tel: 91 11 616 3935 or 619 1063
Email: bflies@ndb.vsnl.net.in

APSA

Mr Lakshapathi,
Association for Promotion of Social Action APSA
34 Annsandrapalya
Vimanpura
Bangalore 560 017
Tel: 91 80 523 2749
Email: apsa@bgl.vsnl.net.in

Save the Children (UK)

Save the Children supports initiatives which include night schools for working children, and credit and savings schemes, as well as raising awareness about the rights of working children. If you would like to get involved, make a donation or find out further information please access the Save the Children website (see link on right).

Contact details are:
Save the Children
17 Grove Lane
London
SE5 8RD
UK
Tel: (+44) 020 7703 5400
Fax: (+44) 020 7703 2278

Anti-Slavery International (UK)

Anti-slavery International supports work against child labour and bonded labour as well as trafficking and slavery. If you would like to get involved, make a donation or find out further information please access the Anti-Slavery website (see link on right)

Contact details are:
Anti-Slavery International
Thomas Clarkson House
The Stableyard
Broomgrove Road
London SW9 9TL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7501 8920
Fax: +44 (0)20 7738 4110

Click here to return


Whose life is it anyway?: Sunday 19th November 2001 at 1915 on BBC Two

Reporter: Sue Lloyd-Roberts
Producer: Jane Gabriel
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Sue Lloyd-Roberts
Whose life is it anyway?
Girls of Bangalore
Know the importance of education
Boys in Delhi
Hampered by police in the distribution of their newspaper.
See also:

26 Feb 01 | Health
01 Nov 00 | South Asia
17 Jun 00 | South Asia
03 Apr 00 | South Asia
01 Oct 99 | South Asia
Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


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