Front Line: Delhi - Street Children Who Have Nothing Are Caught in a Worldwide Dispute

Article excerpt

NON-GOVERNMENTAL organ-isations around the world open their doors today to children and those who work with them to celebrate the most ambitious declaration of children's rights produced by the international community, the signing of the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child. With its list of rights and aspirations, it makes impressive reading although few of the globe's estimated 250 million working children will have heard of it.

A group of child workers in Delhi have other things on their mind. They are part of a child workers' co-operative and today they plan to confront the Speaker of the Indian Parliament on the government's failure to provide adequate education for those aged under 14. Anuj and Suraj will be leading the team. They are both child ragpickers. They get up at 4am every day to collect the pickings of the city's rubbish, receive enough money for food and then meet the rest of the collective to discuss the business of the day.

They first got together after a 12-year-old ragpicker was killed in an attack by the police. Now, if one of their members is attacked, they go to the employers and police chiefs as a group to protest. They also campaign for the right to go to school and the right to work.

When the red-turbaned coolies at Delhi station complained that the boys were after their jobs, the boys arranged a meeting, ex- plained that they were rubbish collectors and not porters and the coolies backed off.

There are now hundreds of children's collectives that support India's Movement for Working Children.

The children attend a network of street schools laid on by the charity Butterflies. Those who can read or write work for the monthly newspaper. They write articles such as, "Why children run away from home" and "Why street children have to work" to attract public sympathy. The paper is published as a wall poster. Anuj, the editor, said: "We write so that people will understand our problems and so that they know that children too have rights. And if one of us is killed, the big newspapers won't report it, but we will."

Armed with buckets of home-made glue, brushes and with the rolls of the latest edition tucked under their arms, the children venture out to the poster-hanging districts of Delhi at night when they hope they won't be bothered. …