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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 18:14 GMT
Delhi children bank on their future
Young shoeshiners in Delhi
Without money, there is little hope for most children

A group of destitute children living on the streets of India's capital, Delhi, have started what is thought to be a unique project - their own bank.


If I get ill and can't work, I can get money out of the bank and use it to buy food and medicine

Rajut

The bank, managed and run by the children themselves, keeps their money safe, offers interest and even loans.

It is already transforming the children's lives.

Now it is hoped the idea might spread to more of India's estimated 18 million street children.

A small cement-floored room run by a local charity provides a shelter and is one of the few places street children in Delhi can come and feel safe.

Cash kiosk

A malnourished child in Delhi tries to cool down.
Hunger and poverty often dash children's hopes
Now there is a new attraction.

As well as the television, which most of the children can be found watching, in the corner there is a bright yellow kiosk.

It is the children's own bank.

Thirteen-year-old Rajut is a regular customer.

Every evening, he puts about 15 rupees (30 US cents) in his account, the money he earns as a rag picker.

Pocket money

He has lived on the street all his life and says the bank has made a big difference.


I'm saving up because one day I want to start a small business

Manoj
"Before the bank started, I kept any money I had in my pocket"

Rajut adds: "It used to get stolen or bullies took it from me. Now it's safe in the bank.

"Also if I get ill and can't work, I can get money out of the bank and use it to buy food and medicine."

As well as being secure, the bank also gives interest, subsidised by a local charity.

All decisions about how it is run are made by the children themselves.

The account holders, now more than 160 of them, hold meetings once a month.

Street children

Young boys in Delhi
The children are running their own banks
Sitting inside the kiosk was Anuj, the bank's 15-year-old manager, elected by the other children.

He was orphaned when he was eight and has lived on the street ever since.

Now that Anuj has experienced the project first-hand he realises there is more work than he originally thought and hopes he can grow up and become a bank manager himself.

The bank has given many boys a chance to plan for the future. Manoj is 12 and had just banked around 18 rupees, earned from rag picking.

After saving for a month, he has the equivalent of just under two dollars in his account. But he has big plans.

Own business

Manoj says: "I'm saving up because one day I want to start a small business. I might drive an auto rickshaw like my dad or put my money into a street stall selling cigarettes and tea."

Children often sleep rough on the streets of Delhi's slums
Children often sleep rough in Delhi's slums
Outside the shelter, in the slums around Delhi railway station, is Afroz.

He is only half the size of the rest, a 15-year-old boy who has just risen from rag picker to trader after getting a loan from the bank.

He spends 14 hours a day selling a range of goods from a handcart.

He has already paid back most of the loan with interest.

Improved quality

His ambition is to build up enough savings to run a proper shop.

"If I had a shop, it would be permanent and I could stock better quality goods," Afroz explains.

He adds: "The cart isn't secure. Sometimes I have to abandon everything and run away when the police come."

The charity Butterflies, which supports the bank, wants to extend to other groups of street children.

Sebastian Matthew of Butterflies says it is limited and explains that the project can only work where children already have regular help.

"They feel safe and secure here," he says, and adds: "Children who are staying on the street on their own, they're not safe.

"They could be abused by others; their lives are much more difficult than these children."

The idea of saving is a new concept.

So too is the idea that the money they earn is not just to survive, it can also give them a happier future.

See also:

29 Jul 02 | Technology
01 Jul 02 | South Asia
06 May 02 | South Asia
27 Dec 01 | Crossing Continents
27 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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