According to a piece in the Guardian, it seems that authorities in Delhi are piloting a project to tackle the city’s enormous waste problem but the solution may affect those whose livelihood depends on it. Currently, waste is sorted manually by an informal army of men, women and children and then passed on to middle-men to sell or recycle. Three new plants (one at Ghazipur) will, it is hoped, sort the 8000 tonnes of Delhi’s daily waste automatically. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people work in this informal sector (known as ‘rag-pickers’) in and around the capital. The work is terrible and dangerous but for a significant section of the transient population of one of the world’s fastest growing cities, it is at least a living.
Over the years, I’ve photographed and written about many of the city’s rag pickers who exist in a twilight, Dickensian world ignored by almost everyone, quietly making the city function in a most human but terrible way.
Of course the statement is nonsense – the NATO propaganda machine in full spin mode – but he actually raises some interesting points.
There is appalling child poverty in Glasgow (as there is in much of the UK) but little from bombs or direct warfare. As Justin Forsyth from the NGO Save the Children put it, one in four children living in Afghanistan will die before they reach the age of five.
“Last year was the deadliest for children since late 2001, with more than a thousand killed because of the conflict” and “a staggering 850 children die every day, many from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, or because they are malnourished”.
Actually, what Sedwill meant was that significant and direct violence was not the greatest risk for (especially) Kabul’s children despite them living on the edge of a live war zone. In other respects of course Kabul children illustrate perfectly the issues of young lives in the Developing World. They are forced by and large to forego what a childhood looks like to us.
A significant issue that divides children in Glasgow and Kabul is work and Afghanistan has a large proportion of working children. The development of the idea of childhood as we know in the West is a product of the Enlightenment and Victorian social reform. For many of the world’s children, work is not a matter of choice and going to school is an unaffordable dream. Families send their children to work through economic necessity not profit. We may find this deeply unpalatable but the world is as it is, not as we wish it to be. In recognition of this situation, there are small scale moves to unionise child workers and give those who have no choice, a voice and some rudimentary protection. The National Movement of Street Boys and Girls in Brazil is one example, there is another in Delhi. A basic conviction of these movements is that through community participation and the development of democratic practice, poverty can be challenged. All of these schemes involve lengthy intervention by social workers but represent a real-life (if partial) solution to the reality of working children.
Here are some pictures from Kabul and Delhi that illustrate the issues…