Ragpickers: Recycling and School

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CHILD RAGPICKERS I.Ragpicking in India: a general overview
A.What is ragpicking?
India’s booming urbanization brings the problem of waste management. As more people are migrating towards the cities, the amount of waste is increasing at a high pace and waste management is likely to become a critical issue in the coming years. Ragpickers play an important, but usually unrecognised role in the waste management system of Indian cities. They collect garbage in search of recyclable items that can be sold to scrap merchant (paper, plastic, tin...) This activity require no skills and is a source of income for a growing number of urban poors. There are two types of scrap-collectors: the ragpickers, mostly women, who collect garbage on dumping grounds, in residential areas or in street bins, and the itinerant buyers who purchase scrap directly from households, offices and shops. Most of the itinerant buyers are male and they typically require a certain amount of capital to purchase scrap. The informal waste sector

Most of the ragpickers are not independent but work for middlemen or contractors who purchase segregated rag from them on pre-decided rates.

Waste picking is rarely recognized or integrated in the official Waste Management System despite its large contribution to it. According to the NGO Chintan, ragpickers “are unrecognized and have almost no rights to work, despite the fact that they save almost 14% of the municipal budget annually. In Delhi, the army of almost 80,000 estimated wastepickers save the city at least Rs. 6 lakh daily through their work.”

B.Who are the ragpickers?
In India, over a million people find livelihood opportunities through waste picking. Chintan’s research shows that “as many as one in a hundred persons in a large city in India could be employed in waste recycling, starting from waste picking to operating small junk shops and even operating reprocessing factories. Of these, most are marginalized wastepickers and small waste dealers.” Ragpickers are mostly women who come from the most marginalised groups of the population and often live in unauthorised slums in the poorest neighbourhood. Studies also show that ragpickers are most of the time migrants who had fled their city or village because of hard living conditions. The vast majority of the ragpickers are Dalits or belong to minorities (muslims in Kolkatta). In UP, Assamese and the Biharis have by and large dominated the profession in the last two decades. The fact that they are migrants and often seen as temporary residents can explain why few governments have designed policies to improve their situation. Most of them don’t have identity cards or birth certificate and therefore don’t have access to basic governmental facilities (social assistance, enrolment of their children in municipal schools…)

C.Some improvements in their work conditions
Many NGOs are supporting the ragpickers to gain access to these basic services (health care, health insurance, education and vocational training). They also provide legal support or counselling sessions and help them form unions to speak up for their rights. In some cities, their work has been partly recognized and their situation thus improved. In Pune for example, thanks to the scrap-collectors union, the municipal corporation now issues identity cards to ragpickers and offers a limited health insurance plan, recognising their contribution to recycling waste in the city This acknowledgement can have a positive impact on reducing child labour by increasing the parent’s income therefore reducing their dependence on the money their children earn.

II.Child labour and ragpicking
A.Background of the child ragpickers
Many children begin working as ragpickers at the young age of five or six years. In Lucknow,

the majority of the ragpickers are between 8 and 10 years old. Most of them never attend school and don’t have any formal education. Their families are generally in need of extra...
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