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Sanitation workers belonging to lower caste face social stigma: Report

Lack of opportunities deters them from moving away from this traditional formof occupation.

Published: 14th November 2019 06:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2019 03:48 PM   |  A+A-

Manual Scavengers

For representational purposes (File | PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Sanitation workers belonging to lower caste suffer widespread social discrimination in India, a joint report by the International Labour Organisation, WaterAid, World Bank and World Health Organisation has observed.

The report ‘Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers - An Initial Assessment’ will be released on Thursday.

The report has outlined the dehumanising conditions faced by sanitation workers in nine countries - India, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. 

The report has covered toilet cleaners and caretakers in domestic, public and institutional settings, those who work at fecal waste treatment and disposal sites,  those who empty pits and septic tanks and other fecal sludge handlers, those who clean sewer and manholes -- who are called manual scavengers in the Indian context.  

Those from lower caste suffer discrimination in healthcare, education, employment, access to land, employment and wages, it said.

Lack of opportunities deters them from moving away from this traditional form of occupation. 

Discrimination and social stigma, financial insecurity, weak legal protection and health hazards were the key challenges faced by sanitation workers, said the report. 

Despite the existence of laws, India has not been able to tackle manual scavenging but has forced it underground, the report has found.

Several manual scavenging workers reported they were paid in food and there was no monetary transaction.

Contact with fecal sludge and wastewater and working in dangerous spaces posed major health challenges. While several manual scavenging workers have succumbed to asphyxiation from toxic gases, headache, dizziness, fever, fatigue, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, skin burn, eye irritation are medical conditions directly associated with sanitation work.

The report cited a 2006 Right to Information report which showed the death of around 25 sanitation workers per month between 2002 and 2005. 

There are still key gaps in understanding urban sanitation technical systems, the report pointed out. The gaps in quantifying and profiling the global sanitation workforce, lack of implementation of policies, institutional arrangements that safeguard sanitation workers across different dimensions, evaluation of the impact of interventions, building a network with other social actors and stakeholders need to be addressed, it said.          

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