Mumbai is home to 22 million people, and over 70% live in slums. People living in the slums have limited access to electricity, clean water, food, and educational opportunities. Slums have overcrowded communal bathroom facilities and many have open sewage that contaminates sources of clean drinking water. The slums are also home to over seven million children under the age of 14 who are growing up in abject poverty. Because food is scarce and the need for families to pool their resources for survival is great, there is tremendous pressure on children – even as young as four years old – to work. Slum children work as rag pickers, sewage cleaners and other unhealthy and dangerous jobs all around Mumbai, earning a few rupees a day in order to stave off their families’ hunger. Education and literacy are put off as parents struggle to balance the immediate needs for food over the need of a child to grow, develop, and study in order to build a different life.It’s a matter of basic survival.
Some other facts about poverty in India should also give us pause: India is estimated to have one third of the world's poor. According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 42% of India, 456 million people, fall below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Almost 30% of workers are casual workers who work only when they are able to get jobs and remain unpaid for the rest of the time. Only 10% of the workforce is in regular employment. The lack of adequate sanitation, nutrition and safe water has significant negative health impacts. It was estimated in 2002 by the World Health Organization that around 700,000 Indians die each year from diarrhea.
Children suffer in some harrowing ways from this situation. Lack of new farming techniques, difficult weather conditions, poor storage conditions, misuse of insecticides and lack of water all mean that many families cannot grow enough crops to feed their children all year round. It is this reason why families leave rural areas to travel hundreds of kilometers just to live in the slums of large cities, like Mumbai. The families reasoning for relocation is sound; back in the villages they starve, in the cities they may find work and survive in the slums. According to the New York Times, it's estimated that about 42.5% of the children in India suffer from malnutrition. The World Bank, citing estimates made by the World Health Organization, says that about 49 per cent of the world's underweight children, 34 per cent of the world's stunted children and 46 per cent of the world's malnourished children, live in India.
Girls have it even worse. Some girls are married off early, work as indentured servants or end up in prostitution just to survive. Indeed, a major issue which faces India is illiteracy amongst women. There are over 200 million illiterate women in India. Recent studies show that infant mortality is directly inversely proportional to the education level of the mothers – in other words, the children of illiterate mothers are much more likely to die young. These women have high fertility rates, poor earning potential, little autonomy in the household and bad quality of life. Girls’ literacy greatly affects the lives of the women, their children and their whole society.
Education is the key to reducing these figures. Education in health and sanitation, skills training, empowering all children, especially girls, better education in schools, positive influence and outlook have all been tried and tested throughout the world in projects and have seen drastic results and drops in the terrible figures above.