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Breaking poverty's cocoon

Child shoeshiners, rag pickers and other street workers in India are turning to the UN Convention of Human Rights of the Child in their fight to persuade politicians to recognise their union.

The government is reluctant to recognise the Bal Mazoor union despite its legal victory last year when the Indian Supreme Court ruled the organisation lawful.

A welfare group called Butterflies is leading the struggle on behalf of the country's 20 million, mostly illiterate, street children who eke out a living in the cities. Butterflies is run by Rita Paniker, a sociologist, and her agency helps the street children run projects such as tea stalls from which they keep the profits. It also tries to provide lessons and health programmes, often asked for by the children themselves.

The agency, which derives its name from the fact that the children, like the insects, have short but colourful lives, receives funding from Germany, the Netherlands and France.

At least one third of India's productive economy depends on child labour and the Bal Mazoor union aims to win them the same rights and protection as adult workers.

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