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Girl Rag Pickers: Struggle for Survival

BY: preeti soni | Category: Others | Post Date: 2009-04-05

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   preeti soni
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This paper is an endeavor to closely study the situation of rag picker girls. An effort is made to understand their work conditions, impact of the present occupation on these girls and the problems faced by them. In other words, this paper provides an overview of their lives in totality. The presenter looked at the situations these girls faced in every day life and understood that everyday is a struggle for them and they have to survive in such unfavorable environment for livelihood of themselves and their families.

The present paper has significance because problems of girl rag pickers have hardly been studied and it is believed that life of the girl rag pickers is more difficult. They are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at the work place and are also exploited, abused and used as an instrument of income by their families. They are exposed to different kind of exploitation during the work and at home, therefore, it was imperative to focus on them as a specific category to understand their problems.

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The process of industrialization in India brought about fundamental changes in the mode of production and in the relationship of productive factors. The mechanization made agriculture capital intensive. Those with small and non-viable land holdings had to give up their lands and work for the richer farmers in the village or migrate to cities for their survival. The industries could not absorb the whole displaced labour, unemployment and poverty compelled the whole family, including the children to work. The profit motivated to traders and businessmen began to look for cheap labour. Child labour was found to be cheaper and easily available. Thus began the exploitation of child labour market, not only in India, but also in most of the developing countries.
The children engaged in the survival battle and that too, for a virtually subhuman existence, especially in unorganized sector. In this sector children have very limited occupational mobility, because of lack of education, skills, training and guidance, and have no occupational choice.

Their day begins with uncertainties and their work is irregular, some time it's depend upon season. The job they do show a wide range depending on availability of work- carrying load, vending, shoe shining, cleaning cars, and rag picking which require hardly any skills. It is one of the most common occupation in which thousand of children are engaged. It is estimated that six out of every ten children involve in this work to eke out their living. Motivations for the children to pick up this work for economic support is easy availability of rags in and around the towns without spending money and this work does not involved employers for employment. Therefore, their work is either controlled by their own interest or by their family. They are called as such though they pick anything but rags. They collect scraps from streets, market places, garbage bins and waste dumps, picking up material such as paper cardboard, plastic, iron scrap, tin containers, and broken glass, in fact anything thrown away by households, shops, workshops, or other establishment that can be sold to dealer who buy these for the recycling industry. Undoubtedly, the present work expose them to the several types of health hazards like infection form coming into contact with foe cal contaminants, dead animals and hook worm, gastrointestinal infections and danger of accidents; injuries and disease through contacts with sharp material and poisonous substance as they scrounge with bare hands and sometime even bare feet. Such kind of situations become worst in the case of -girl child-, when they are exposed to the risk of s*xual harassment and physical exploitation by the people of outside world. Because of which their moral and psychological development is at stake.

The participation of children in economic activities reflects the socio economic status of the nation. The poorer the nation, there is likelihood the large number of its children are found more in work places rather than in schools. Children are required to work supplement their family income or acquire skills to become self employed or independent persons. While child labour is a product of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance of parents, girl child labour is the result of many complex issues. There is discrimination amongst male and female starting from their conception. Most of the female fetuses are brutally killed even in their embryonic life. The misery does not end there, even if they survive some how, they are discriminated at home, school, social places and place of work. As soon as the girl child starts walking and is able to understand language, work is entrusted to her as a routine affair. The girl child has to understand a variety of tasks in and outside the house. There is a strong s*x typing of roles as regard to the work that female and male children do. The burden of household duties falls largely upon the female child. At the same time female children are also faced to work and earn for the family. Without realizing the consequences the girl children are made to shoulder many responsibilities. They are groomed to behave in a different way from the boys. By the time they are 11 or 12, they generally become docile, obey the order of elders in the family and are destined to do whatever is entrusted to them. Girl child labour is not only deprived of their education and recreation, but their overall development also gets affected. A study shows that the female child labour in rural areas is 6.9 million and in urban areas is 7.94 million. In fact in many places of work, they out number their male counterpart (Jawa, 2000). These female child workers earn less wages and work for more hours, both at home and at work place.

Girls are the most unprotected among street children and are more vulnerable to physical and s*xual abuse, especially those who have crossed puberty. They have no guidance on the changes that take place with puberty and on s*xual matters. While engaging in rag picking they come into contact with several types of health hazards like skin infections, cuts, T.B, malaria and develop other social evils such as gambling , drug abuse, prostitution and different kind of exploitation-physical, s*xual which effects their over all development.

Working Condition
It is a matter of great concern that majority of girls (69%) start rag picking at the age of 6 years and work continuously for long hours without any rest. Thus they are deprived of opportunity for any active and organized play, which could provide some leisure and psychological satisfaction to them. Because of their dirty and shabby appearance they are not allowed to use recreational parks and other places, hence they find satisfaction in seeking excitement by way of indulging in addiction and other social evils. It has been reported that 80% of girls are addicted to one or other type of drug, in which tobacco chewing is the most common drug i.e., 60%. It is evident form this that the children between the age group of 13-16 years and above are most vulnerable to addiction of one or the other and need focused intervention (Reddy,2005).

As far as concern about duration of working hours, the children working in the -informal sector- are not governed by any regulation. It is ironical that, while the society has not accepted children to work, no such body of rules for those working in the informal sector has been constituted. Nor is there any supervision by the government of the kind of -informal sector- in which the children are engaged. The consequence of which is that majority of girls 63% work 11-12 hours a day and some works more than 12 hours a day, which is more than the working hours prescribed under the factories Act and that too is for adults. A study(bose,2001) reported that 70% girls faced problem of eve teasing, physical abuse and also s*xual abuse by the outside people which include watch men, guard, , shop keepers, tea shop and other general public (UNICEF 2002).

Health Hazards
Health is one of the basic human needs and access to health services is right of everyone. Health has a broader meaning referring to -a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity-. In other words, health encompasses psycho-socio-somatic development in medical science and improvement in provision of health services, but this has not occurred every where and benefits have not percolated to everyone. The rag picker children constituted that section of population who has not benefited form these advancement and services. The social conditions in which these children live have often precluded them from actual enjoyment of the right to have access to health facilities at per with other sections of the society. The situation turns out to be further worse due to neglect towards the health of the girl child in our society. In addition, shortage of health facilities and functionaries in the localities where they live adds to the neglect of their health needs. Added to this is the greater degree of malnutrition due to poverty. All these handicaps on health front combine together to affect the health of the rag picker girls. It is an important point to note that rag picker girls did not get regular meals or got only one meal in a day. It is unfortunate that they worked long hours and walked 10-15 miles each day virtually on empty stomach. The major circumstances responsible for malnutrition and addiction are -environment- in which they work and live. Most of the girls have cuts, injuries, joint pain, skin infections, stomach pain, body pain and the possibility of STD, AIDS and other infectious disease are also prevalent among this group(Khan, 2006).

Undoubtedly, numerous effects have been made by the government with the help of voluntary welfare agencies to promote general health status of women and children. But, by and large, the health status of women and children, especially girl children, remains unchanged among the rural poor, urban slums and tribal areas.

A matter of great concern is that with the urbanization, and the increase in volume of throwaway packing and waste material, the numbers of such children are growing. The present work exposes the children to health hazards and they also develop social evils and different kind of problems, which affect their overall future development. Moreover rag picking has not even been recognized as an occupation by the census. Since most of the children draw their livelihood out of rag picking work and it has got all the components of an occupations defined by Webster's encyclopedia unabridged Dictionary of English language, which says that -occupation is an activity in which one regular devotes oneself, especially one's regular work, or means of getting a living,- therefore it should be considers as an occupation so that plight of all those who are involved could be improved.. The future holds no promises for them. They are thus who are denied the joys of childhood, a favorable living environment, and opportunities for stable adult life.

Article Source: http://www.saching.com

About Author / Additional Info: Research Scholar , Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi. Contact me: Preetisoni4@yahoomail.com

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Comments on this article: (3 comments so far)

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Comment Comment By Comment Date
Good work
Your article is very written and sheds a great light awareness on the rag picker girls in India.
Your Guest 2009-04-07
Nice Article
Simply shocking and truly an eye opener .. Nice research work from the author .. Please send my congratulations to her for the good work!! .. Daniel from Santa Rosa, CA
Daniel 2009-04-06
Wow ..
Hard to believe that people live in such conditions around the world
Helen 2009-04-06

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