THE SIX BURNED KIDS live in India's largest slum, the notorious Dharavi, home to more than one million souls. This city of squalor is an infinite stretch of open sewers, cramped huts and thousands of stray dogs. With the poorest residents in Mumbai, the former Bombay, Dharavi has as many as 18,000 people crowded into one single acre.
In what used to be a mangrove swamp, which filled in with coconut leaves, rotten fish and human waste, a person shares 300 sq. ft. of floor space with 15 other humans and innumerable rats.
Surprisingly, Dharavi has businesses with an annual turnover estimated at more than $650 million a year, due to many small-scale industries, which make products in tiny manufacturing units.
SLUM LIFE IS DANGEROUS
One such business is a small perfume-making unit. This week the owner asked six children who were playing in the slum to fill gas from cylinders into aerosol cans. Tempted with promised money, the kids agreed. The five teenagers and an eleven-year-old boy suffered serious burns (50 to 85 percent of their bodies) when someone lit a matchstick near the flammable gases and the entire unit caught fire.
The owner of the perfume business had left the premises, where the boys had no supervision. He, of course, knew it was an explosive environment, which is probably why he didn't want to do the dangerous job himself and why he left the premises.
RISKING THE CHILDREN
Putting children in dangerous environments is against child labor laws even in slums in far away India. Of course, there are still numerous places in the world where there are no such laws and children are prisoners in sweat shops.
I imagine there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of small businesses in poor countries who are sub-contracted by large perfume manufacturers to handle the dangerous aspects of the business, such as putting their perfume into aerosol containers for sale. Of course, it involves many industries, other than merely the perfume manufacturers. And I doubt that it can even be tracked to find out who are profiteering over the bodies of children in slums. Bodies that are terribly burned and may not survive. The resulting stench of child abuse doesn't smell as sweet as profits for the greedy. Would that their perfumes would carry the scent of burning child flesh.
BETTER TO BE CHILD OR ANIMAL IN SLUM?
Now if the wounded were animals, such as the hundreds of thousands of dangerous stray dogs that run in packs in India's slums, perhaps there would be more concern. The Indian government has refused to allow the killing of stray dogs -- dogs that kill and maim the country's children. Add to that the fact that in India, about 15 million people are bitten by animals, mostly dogs every year.
Since 1985, India has reported an estimated 25,000 - 30,0000 human deaths from rabies annually. A person is bitten every 2 seconds, and someone dies from rabies every 30 minutes. With India's approx. 25 million dogs, there is a dog:man ratio of 1:36.
And thanks to animal rights advocates like PETA and people like actress Pamela Anderson protesting the killing of stray nuisance dogs in India, the government no longer puts dogs down but is trying sterilization programs. Anderson wrote to the municipal commission of Greater Mumbai, telling them that "Dogs cannot use condoms..." and advocated sterilizing the dogs instead.
WAKE UP Pamela! How about actually visiting the slums of India where most of these stray dogs are living. Hell, stay at home and watch a documentary, rather than reruns of yourself in "Baywatch." Then tell us if you would dare to walk down the lanes of Dharavi with its open sewers and human waste running alongside the path on which you walk and wild dogs which might well bite you. At least YOU could afford to buy the rabies medicine to prevent your death. Not many of the residents of Dharavi, the poorest of the poor, have the money for the vaccine.
Here's a dose of reality --"The success of this program (PETA's recommendation and India's current ruling) hinges on the sterilization of 70 percent of the strays in a given geographic area within 6 months, before the next reproductive cycle begins, otherwise the entire effort is negated. This target is difficult to achieve, given the large number of strays and the limited resources," according to an article written by Rozario Menezes MD, a retired Indian chief medical officer, in the Journal of Canadian Medical Association.
Sterilization simply cannot work in a poor country, with so many strays, as quickly as needed to save human lives.
JUST AN INKLING
Hopefully this post gives a small picture of just a few of the dangers of being a child who lives in a slum, trying to stay alive, anywhere in the world."
"Mumbai's shadow city," Dharavi, with its estimated one million residents, is the largest slum in India -- a country which will soon surpass China with the world's largest population. Mexico City's slum Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio has four times as many people. And in Asia, Karachi's slum Orangi Township has surpassed Dharavi.
In a National Geographic Magazine article, an Indian resident of Dharavi says: "This is our talent. We deal with what is."
Sadly, that is beyond the beyond.