Despite having to spend about Rs 15,000 per tablet for her sons thalassemia treatment,Rukmini Sasane,who has been a waste picker for over a decade now,decided that she has no right to deprive her two daughters of a formal education. Like Sasane,there are over 7,000 waste pickers in the city who are now spearheading a campaign against any transactions at scrap shops that involve children below the age of 18.
Under the banner of Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP),a union of waste pickers working in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad,the campaign was formally launched on Sunday. It will focus on the scraps shops in the city and urge them to stop buying scrap from children. The campaign was launched on the eve of the Anti-Child Labour Day.
Talking about her daily struggles,Sasane,a single mother of three,said,My son is 18 now and has been ill for as long as I can remember. We dont like to talk about his illness as kids in his class keep asking questions. He needs blood transfusion every month and this costs a lot of money. But I never thought of sending my daughters to work to compensate for this. I always wanted to ensure that they get a better life,a life as far removed from sorting and collecting garbage as possible.
A survey carried out by KKPKP in 1995 revealed that most children found collecting garbage were the children of waste pickers. After the members of the union came forward and took an oath not to send their kids to work,in 2008 this number came down to half and less than one per cent of the surveyed children came from the homes of the union members.
Rupali Kale,another single mother of four said each day has been a struggle for her after her husband passed away five years ago. I have been rummaging through waste since I was 10 and started going out with a sack with my mother. I did not want a third generation of waste pickers in our family. I did have some informal education,so I wanted better for the kids. When I got the opportunity to send my kids to this residential hostel,I immediately sent three of them. For the last three years,they have been studying there.
Kale added that she had problems finding a person to take care of her kids while she was at work and felt that a day-care centre was desperately needed to tackle such issues. Most kids end up working as waste pickers as mothers dont know what to do. So,they end up bringing them to work with them, she explained.
Without adequate and affordable day-care centres being set up by the government,these anti-child labour campaigns will not be sustainable. Were also exploring the possibility of helping to set up such centres, said KKPKP president,Mohan Nanavare.