Need day cares, safe spaces to put children of waste pickers back into formal education: Study

The waste pickers said they used to send the kids to school as it was a much safer place than the slums they reside in as there is no one to supervise them at home.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, everything moved online to adapt to a new normal. From schools to researches, things went digital. However, during this time, very few gave a thought about the thousands of kids who were forced to dropout of formal schooling as online education wasn’t a choice for them.

A research study conducted by the Kagad Kach Patra Kasthkari Panchayat among 3,399 waste-pickers in Pune found that 214 children were left at school by their parents when they went out to work. Of them, 153 were boys and 61 were girls.

The parents said that they used to send the kids to school as it was a much safer place than the slums they reside in as there is no one to supervise them at home. 71 of the 214 children were being taken to work now for this purpose. 2020 saw the maximum number of students dropping out of school, the study reported.

“Since schools are closed due to the pandemic and education has moved online, children of waste-pickers are at a big disadvantage. Schools were safe places for them. Parents left them there for several hours while at work. From child abuse to addictions and bad company, there are several factors influencing waste-pickers’ decision to take the children to work now rather than leave them alone at home,” Aditya Vyas, a member of KKPKP, said.

In more than 50 per cent cases, waste-pickers said that children would not be taken to work once the schools start. Asked for solutions to the current crisis, a majority of them said that day-care centres can be an alternative to schools.

“We need to put forth our demands to the Pune Municipal Corporation asking for day-care centres for children of informal workers who now are left with no option but to take their kids to work,” said Shivsharan, a leader of the waste pickers, said.

Mayuri Dhavre, daughter of a waste picker, spoke about how the pandemic has impacted her education, leaving her with no choice but to accompany her mother to work. “I look forward to go back to my school, as it is a safe space. I want to continue my dance lessons along with my studies,” she added.

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The survey found that many waste-pickers also felt that support from citizens, mentoring their studies, providing for a safe space for a child before or after school, could help their children pursue their education.

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