Mackenzie Berg

Mackenzie Berg (Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group): MacKenzie received her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. She then traveled and worked in several developing countries before entering the graduate program at University of Denver. After her fellowship, Mackenzie wrote: "The various opportunities that I had to actually meet, talk to and interact with the waste pickers in their communities were the best for me—this was the most real, the most valuable in terms of information gathered [not just data, but the chance to make observations about sights, smells, emotions, etc, involved with their lives that helped me to understand their points of view and experience]."

No Children in Bins.. except for Waste Pickers.

26 Jun

“This is no difference from caste discrimination- not letting dalits use the upper caste well, or let their shadows fall on the upper caste for the fear of pollution. It is scary to find that an educational institute would do this. It tells us how intuitive and deep the discrimination against wastepickers runs, and the enormous barriers they face just to be treated as human beings.” — Bharati Chaturvedi, Founder & Executive Director of Chintan
The goal of Chintan’s No Child in Bins Initiative is “to create educational linkages by providing waste picker children with access to non-formal and formal education, practical skills and awareness about their rights in order to enable them to transition from child labor to full time students in a position to make informed and independent decisions about their work and lives.”

This April, seven of these children [6 girls and 1 boy] were excited to be admitted to Salwan Public School at Pusa Road, a private [non-government run] school with whom Chintan has a close partnership. Out of an initial 10, seven had passed the entrance exams which required intensive studying on their part, and the committment from their families to remain in once place [Typically, these families migrated to various locations as the seasons changed]. In order to prepare to enter the private school at the proper level of education, all of them joined nearby government schools and attended these diligently, despite great personal hardship. Most of the girls continued to do housework while completing their studies.

Salwan Public School
On the day that Chintan went to purchase their books and finalize their registration, officials from Salwan called to inform the organization that the children could no longer be admitted to the school, for fear that they might spread diseases among the other students. This, despite the fact that Chintan had made sure each child was given full medical exams and carried a clean bill of health. Needless to say, the children and their families were extremely dejected by the decision, after all that they invested in this opportunity for a better life.

Two months later, Chintan has been trying to counsel the children to keep up their studies, and continue in the government schools. All of the children were originally from slum areas, so even entering [and now continuing] in the government schools was a big ordeal. Having been rejected, they are already facing taunting and discrimination from both peers and teachers– thus, Chintan has not disclosed to the children that the reason for being denied entrance. Chintan fears they have already lost a great deal of faith from the waste picker community in being able to successfully leverage achievements such as this. They are frustrated at the lack of support from the media, and the local community in recognizing that the implications of this decision serve to perpetuate the prejudice that feeds the cycle of poverty in India, and throughout the world.

A former study conducted by Chintan on the health of child waste pickers revealed that 84% of waste picking children are anemic, 14% of them have tuberculosis, and 25% of them report fever as a recurring illness. More than 22% of the children visited when the survey was conducted were suffering from 4 or more health problems.

Although the Indian government has banned child labor, these children often see no other option for supporting themselves and their families. The children take to waste-picking alongside their family members instead of attending school, thus exposing themselves to dangerous conditions on a daily basis. Like many victims of extreme poverty, their affliction with various health problems eventually contribute to greater malnourishment, when ailments such as worm infestations and exposure to toxins prevent their bodies from absorbing essential nutrients. As it becomes more difficult to recover from illnesses, the children lose out on days of work, as well as on crucial income– and thus poverty, hunger, and poor health build upon each other in a cycle that’s very difficult to break free from.

India’s own policy statement on Child Labor claims the following:

“…While child labor is a complex problem that is basically rooted in poverty, there is unwavering commitment by the Government and the people of India to combat it. Success can be achieved only through social engineering on a major scale combined with national economic growth. International policies and actions, therefore, must support and not hamper India’s efforts to get rid of child labor…”
“…The Government of India is determined to eradicate child labor in the country. The world’s largest child labor elimination program is being implemented at the grass roots level in India, with primary education targeted for nearly 250 million. In this a large number of non-governmental and voluntary organizations are involved. Special investigation cells have been set up in States to enforce existing laws banning employment of children in hazardous industries. The allocation of the Government of India for the elimination of child labor was $10 million in 1995-96 and $16 million in 1996-97. The allocation for the current year is $21 million.”

Furthermore, Article 39 of the Constitution of India, in the Directive Principles of State Policy:

“pledges that ‘the State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing … that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused, and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength, that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner, and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation, and against moral and material abandonment.'”
Yet, as the outcome of the Salwan Public School story, and the general condition of impoverished children demonstrates, clearly this does not apply to children of waste picker families or of similar socioeconomic conditions. Their association with an undesirable occupation automatically labels them with the stigma of ‘disease-carrier’, and as inferior in moral and mental capacity, sentencing them to remain in the cycle where lack of education and poverty feed on one another.

Chintan and the Advocacy Project are currently looking into organizing a letter writing campaign to address both members of the government and of the Salwan School administration. I might also be trying to approach the media again about featuring this story, but I am waiting to get contact information.. also, I have not included photos of the children themselves, in respect to Chintan’s confidentiality wishes.

More to come on this…

Posted By Mackenzie Berg

Posted Jun 26th, 2008

1 Comment

  • alan moorer

    July 14, 2008


    Hi Mackenzie:
    I was following the blog of a previous student, Danika Toplogic, who is in Bangladesh and ran into yours–remembered you from the cross cultural course (and I still have that paper you want back). I hope things are going splendidly for you.

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