Indian child labourer Ram Singh making tea at a shop in old quarters of New Delhi.—AFP Photo
Indian child labourer Ram Singh making tea at a shop in old quarters of New Delhi.—AFP Photo

NEW DELHI: Ram Singh, 17, earns just one dollar from the 100 cups of tea he makes every day outside Delhi railway station, but each evening, after packing up, he goes to the bank and deposits nearly half of it.

Singh holds an account at a special bank, run for—and mostly by—Indian street children, that keeps what little money they have safe and seeks to instil the idea that savings, however meagre, are important.

Just one among millions of street children who rely on menial jobs for survival, Singh is determined to make his work pay some sort of future dividend.

“I'm smart, but that alone isn't enough to start a business.

“I save money everyday, hoping to start something of my own. Someday soon,” he said as he served glasses of India's ubiquitous, spicy milk tea in sweltering heat at a stall near the teeming train station.

The Children's Development Khazana (treasure chest) opened its first office in New Delhi 2001 and has since spread across the country and overseas with 300 affiliated branches in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan.

Delhi counts 12 branches with around 1,000 child clients aged between nine and 17.

The brightly painted metal cubicles which serve as teller counters are located in shelters that provide children with free meals and sleeping mats, as well as school classes.

The branches are run almost entirely by and for the children, with account holders electing two volunteer managers from the group every six months.

“Children who make money by begging or selling drugs are not allowed to open an account. This bank is only for children who believe in hard work,” said Karan, a 14-year-old “manager”.

During the day, Karan earns a pittance washing up at wedding banquets or other events. In the evening, he sits at his desk to collect money from his friends, update their pass books and close the bank.

“Some account holders want to withdraw their money. I ask them why and give it to them if other children approve. Everyone earns five per cent interest on their savings.”

An adult staff member is always present to collect the takings at the end of each day, depositing the cash in a nationalised bank to earn the interest component.

Sharon Jacob, who works for the rights group Butterflies that set up the bank, said it aimed to give the children a genuine stake in their own future.

“They work in shops as hawkers or porters but they never had a safe place to keep their money. They were always cheated of it or somebody also stole their money,” Jacob said.

“So this is a place where they could keep their money safely and they are also taught life skills, how to manage their finances. They are taught budgeting, they are taught democratic participation,” Jacob said.

Child labour is officially illegal in India but millions of boys and girls have no choice but to earn a living to support themselves or help their families.

Many move to the cities from rural areas, seeking an escape from grinding poverty or abusive homes.

“I ran away from home at the age of 11 after my father beat me for stealing a kitchen appliance,” said Samir who works in a sweatshop.

“For days I slept on a railway platform. I was beaten by the police and even harassed by the drug peddlers. I wanted to go back home but was ashamed of myself.”

Now 14, Samir lives in the children's shelter and holds an account in the bank.

“I have saved 4,000 rupees in the last seven months. It's a good feeling to have some money. I will buy a shirt and a watch for my father and send it to him to seek his apology. He might forgive me and ask me to be with him at home.”

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Comments (20)

July 5, 2012 10:58 am
These kind of stories are more important than some "God"particle. Fail to see why in Pakistan there is no such initiative for such poor hardworking kids... Maybe affluent Pakistanis are busy praying for themselves at a dargah than helping these kids with their future. Hopeless lot!!
July 5, 2012 11:00 am
a few weeks ago, i read a Danw feature on an Indian scientist successfully fighting the Big Pharma on his own for the rights of the poor. Not sure about others, but Dawn does show different sides of the picture of India successfully.
July 5, 2012 11:27 am
The user Indian should learn from you Sriram a postive attitude, but unfortunately he seems full of hate just see this from his statement " India has so many positives and pak news papers do not find them interesting. " plus he forcefully wrote Pak with small caps anyway hope some day people will drop this hate attitude on both sides. back to topic this is excellent work of these young chaps salute to them may God Help all the hardworking people and bring more positive people in society .. best wishes to them all
July 5, 2012 9:23 pm
Nice one again from Dawn.. Thanks
Prateek Saxena
July 5, 2012 6:39 pm
Dude, calm down. You can't ignore the fact that India is home to millions of poverty stricken people, and so is Pakistan. This is a Pakistani news paper. What good will it do an average Pakistani to learn about India's contribution in the Higgs Boson project. On the other hand, after reading this article somebody in Pakistan might get inspired to start something similar which will definitely benefit a lot of people. Btw, kudos to Dawn. I have not read this report on either the TOI website or the HT website. Strange that I came to know of such a brilliant project started in my country through a foreign source. Speaks volumes about the Indian media....doesn't it?
July 5, 2012 5:06 am
Not sure why we see only these type of news from India in Dawn. Its wrong to depict only these sort of news. India has so many positives and pak news papers do not find them interesting. For eg: Why there is no news on the indian connection to the Higgs Boson particle that is in news news in last 2 days ? Do pak know that the "Boson" part of this theory is an indian scientist and the importance of this to the world ?
July 5, 2012 1:04 pm
Samir's quote was heartbreaking b
July 5, 2012 6:00 am
great article ...shows how blessed we all are ..may God help these children in their lives sad but the courage shown by them is inspirational
Umesh Bhagwat
July 5, 2012 6:38 am
All kudos to the "Dawn' for publishing this story.Ultimately the poor have to rely on each other to better their lot!
sane voice
July 5, 2012 6:45 am
Excellent efforts. God helps those who help themselves.
July 5, 2012 7:04 am
very much inspirational
July 5, 2012 7:24 am
“I have saved 4,000 rupees in the last seven months. It’s a good feeling to have some money. I will buy a shirt and a watch for my father and send it to him to seek his apology. He might forgive me and ask me to be with him at home.” It's a shame what these young kids have to go through...Robbed of their childhood.
July 5, 2012 8:30 am
We rarely give a second look to these child labourers whom we come across all too often in daily life in India. Thanks to AFP/Dawn for this article. It shows that even the most basic of institutionalised help matters deeply to the deprived millions in our region.
July 5, 2012 9:09 am
Calm down bro. I believe purpose of this sort of news is not to degrade India, but to highlight issues in the region and to create awareness among our population as well as eduacate them. You must not feel offended, Dawn has reported positive picture of India also, you must know if you are regular reader. If you want to know what is called nagativity, then care to have a look on "Times of India" and read news about Pakistan. Regarding your comment about Boson, do you know that its not only indian scientist but also 30 Pakistani scients are working on two of sub projects of Boson Project?
July 5, 2012 4:38 pm
“Children who make money by begging or selling drugs are not allowed to open an account. This bank is only for children who believe in hard work,” said Karan, a 14-year-old “manager”. This guy can teach most people something.
July 5, 2012 4:31 pm
Boson was first discovered by an Indian scientist NC Bose in 1925 . But he was never given a noble prize.
July 6, 2012 2:26 am
Do you even know Boson is named after an indian scientist named BOSE? Just do some research.on the Internet.
July 6, 2012 3:17 am
India is a big country with a big population close to that of China as such poverty disease and corruption will be found in abundance we can all see it on the Indian TV and Indian and international print media but it will minimize and hopefully will be eliminated to a large extent with the passage of time.Cooperation within south Asian countries is important in eliminating many common evils.
July 6, 2012 4:23 pm
Let us become deserving children of our forefathers. Stay rationale and true to the truth. Truth is no propaganda, isn't it?
July 6, 2012 9:04 am
They may not have home, education or all the luxuries of a 'decent life'. But they are hopeful, they are positive in life and they have their dreams. Things they have is more important then any other thing in life. They know perhaps their present is not so great but they know for sure their future will be better. And to have a better future they have to dream about it and work for it. That's the spirit which can drive any country.
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