Endangered Children of Rawalpindi

by Dr Manzoor Ahmed Butt

These children belong to the fraction of our community that lives below poverty line. They are poor but not beggars. They have adopted a very strange profession - Selected Solid Waste Collection for making their families living - Picking up worth from worthless.

They work in a very organized way to cater for the needs of their families. Their work involves collection of selected items from waste in streets and transportation to sales points.

How do they work

They work in two ways;
  1. They walk through streets and roads of the town carrying a very large bag on the shoulder.
    They carry a thin rope in one hand. A small magnet is attached to the end of string which drags on the ground behind them. The magnet catches iron materials and they manually pick up other items with naked hands and go on putting in bag. At the end of the day, they take this worth to sale points to encash it.
  2. The more advance group does the same on bicycles.

The waste in which they spend most of their daily time consists of;

  1. Rotten fruits, vegetables and other cooked food items which they eat at spot as well as take to their homes
  2. Used and discarded paper materials, including newspaper, books and hard papers
  3. Used and discarded plastic materials, including syringes, Intra-venous giving sets and IV-canulas
  4. Used and discarded iron materials, including used syringe needles
  5. Used and discarded clothes
  6. Used and discarded silver materials, for example: plates, cans, bottle covers
  7. Used and discarded glass and glass wares
  8. Feces of street and domestic animals [hens, dogs, goats that move around these dumps]

These Children are at very high risk, both medical and social. The miserable thing is that they do not anticipate any risk in it. They enjoy it and do not feel any fear or discomfort.

Medical Risks

  1. Risks due to sharps, needles, syringes, intra-venous giving sets and canulas - Injuries to hands & feet, Tetanus, Hepatitis-B, Hepatitis-C and HIV/AIDS
  2. STDs, the most common form in this case is Gonorrhea
  3. Due to contaminated food, fruits and vegetables - Hepatitis-A, cholera, typhoid, diarrheas, dysentery, and infestations.
  4. Malaria due to working in high mosquito zones of community
  5. Scabies and other skin infections because almost all parts of their bodies including clothes come in direct contact with the waste.
  6. They carry their collections from various collections zones to sales points in two very large bags, one on each side of bicycles. This usually causes loss of balance and the result is Road traffic crashes.
  7. Insect and snake bite due to walking through the areas or dumps

Social Risks

These children are either from below poverty line class of our North Western province & tribal areas or from Afghan refugees. Their age ranges from as low as five to as high as late teens. They have to work at very odd hours - very early in the morning and very late at night. They do not have time for games and recreations. There are many incidences of child sex abuse amongst them.

People do not have any respect for them or their work. They have limited dealings with other people of community. They do get money from their job. The intelligent among them get promotion from Selected Waste Collector to owner of Selected Waste Warehouse through their hard work and planning. They buy the items from their colleagues and then sell it to recycling factories.

They are very shy. They see and feel the social injustice from very early age. This makes them vulnerable to many things. They unknowingly become nurseries for terrorists, robbers and snatchers who at present are the only one that can offer them a better life! The incidence of robberies, street crimes and snatching has increased many folds during last five years.

They have to take their collections on their bicycles from collection points to their dumps. They fell many times because of load. People laugh at them but do not help them in getting up because of the waste they are carrying.

What is solution

They have to be tackled very sensibly. Their families need money on daily basis; therefore, do not allow them to go to even those schools that would not charge any money. We have to start helping them within their own set up.

Immediate Strategy

  1. First and the most important is health education. We have to create awareness in them about safe habits and safe environment, especially about the risks and hazards they daily face.
  2. We have to help them in improving their health status, both at work and homes.
  3. We have to provide them opportunities for games and recreations within their own set up.
  4. We have to teach them some better business rules.
  5. We can involve them in our project - Safe disposal of sharps & needles.
  6. There is an urgent need to evolve an effective community based mechanism of Solid waste collection and its proper disposal with the help of local administration. We can involve these people [adults from the family] in this project as well.

Long term strategy

We can not bring these children to main stream of the community unless we address the poverty of their families. We have to educate and train their elders to take over their work in some decent and organized way in close collaboration with the community. Solid waste collection and disposable is one of our major issues in the community. We can work out this problem with the elders of these children.

Solid waste collection from homes and transfer to main lanes dump containers could be arranged between the community and these people on monthly payment basis. Community should be taught in proper solid wasted collection in two big plastic bags. [Our volunteers can do it]

These people can make arrangements with local farmers to convert the useless waste into beneficial end product. This would not only give good money to these workers but also provide an opportunity for their children to go to school and live a respectable life.