As Sonu Bahot, 36, emerges from a sewer in New Delhi, India, passersby often cover their noses from the stench and fumes that can be overwhelming. Described as the worst job on earth, Bahot has been doing this consistently for over 16 years to support his family. By birth he and his colleagues are members of the Valmiki community, the bottom wrung of the social hierarchy in India dating back thousands of years, a subcategory of “untouchable” Dalits. Because of discrimination and lack of opportunities, they work one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the subcontinent, if not the world.
Three of five boys from the family of Dona Devi, 35, and her husband Kamal Singh, 50, play on a bed that occupies their entire living space in the Kusum Pahari slum in South Delhi, India. From left are Ajit Kumar, 5, Dilip Kumar, 9, background and Kuldeep Kumar, 10, foreground. Kusum Pahari slum in south Delhi (opposite Hotel Inter continental) is located on a garbage dump where meat butchers also graze their pigs. The pigs freely roam the neighborhood. There has been a government order to abolish the slum but the people that have been living there for almost 25 years have no where to go.
Also true among the poor is the fact that children everywhere take care of other children. Here Vishal Singh, 6, cares for a baby girl while her mother is away in the Kusum Pahari slum in south Delhi, India. When Vishal is not working or attending to his chores, he attends a school for the children of the Kusum Pahari slum. It is located on the slum grounds. The school is an open-air facility. It has no power, no toilets and no books. To learn their lessons the children and teachers here work off chalkboards. Tuition is 2 rupees a week but no child is turned away for lack of funds. When Vishal is not working, he goes off to school with nearly 600 other children of this slum community.
Sharda Devi, 30, returns home to collect water for her family of six after working all day as a manual laborer at a construction site making 150 Indian Rupees, the equivalent of $2.23. Behind Sharda is the Charan Slum Settlement in Dharamsala, India where she lives in a tent-like structure with no electricity, running water or bathroom. She will return to cook dinner over a small fire. One of her children suffers from epilepsy and the family can’t afford much more as they struggle to pay for his medicine.
Starvation In the Charan slum settlement of northern India, Kalpana, 20, starves one of her children Sangeeta, 2, while her sister Sarita, 5-months-old, right, sleeps in comfort, above right, in her mother's arms. Sangeeta only weighs 9 pounds. Children are more likely to appeal to the sympathy of those inclined to give to beggars, so those who beg use children for this purpose. Worse, sometimes as in this case a child is starved and carried about by the child's parent while she begs on the streets or rented out to another beggar to be used as an object of sympathy in the hope of generating more income over the course of a given day. Sometimes these extra funds are used to feed other children, thus, in practice; one child is sacrificed for he sake of others. Sangeeta has since been helped by the Tong-Len Charitable Trust's mobile medical clinic at the Charan slum settlement, Dharamsala, India. But according to the World Bank 19,000 children under the age of five die a day from preventable causes.
Like many of the world's poor, Arjun and his family of five live under the cover of a plastic tarp in the Charan slum settlement outside of Dharamsala, India. They earn their money by begging and collecting recyclables. However, they earn very little, for Arjun, the family patriarch, is blind and the mother of his children is largely their sole breadwinner.
Parul Begom’s job requires her to feed plastic coated wiring into a machine that releases hazardous fumes as it chops the wire into recyclable pellets, sometimes taking a finger with it. All this she endures in order to come home to a one-room metal enclosure with no heat or electric to care for her children. Begom, 45, is the only woman working at the factory where she severed her thumb six months earlier in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Arranged marriages are quite common in certain areas of the world. Here a 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh, sitting next to her soon to be husband, was sold off by her family in the hopes that it would bring her a better life. For young girls like her, often it does not.
Rozena, 26, waits at the back door of the brothel for clients that wish to remain anonymous. With more than half it's population living below the poverty line, Bangladesh remains one of the poorest countries in the world. As in other countries, poverty, low social status, and lack of opportunities for education and employment have forced women to become sex workers.
Brothel worker Pinky prepares for another day’s work using makeup to cover a black eye she received from a client in Jessore, Bangladesh. For many of these women it’s an occupational hazard they endure. At left is an older sex worker she refers to as her mother. The women at the Marwari Mandir brothel keep very little, if any, of the money they earn. Instead, whatever they receive is turned over to their respective “mothers” (these are the madams who often are not related to the sex worker by blood, but instead informally adopt young girls, teach them the trade, and in return provide them with food and shelter for their earnings).
Baby Burn Victim
At the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, this 5-month old baby receives free medical care for her burns, as her father, Zaw Win, and another child anxiously hope for her recovery. The baby had spilled a pot of boiling water on herself while her 11-year old brother was watching her. As Win tends to his daughter, the farmer is losing money and time while away from working on the farm. The clinic was established for Burmese refugees and migrant workers who have little money and no place else to go.
Pooradej Kaenatip, 18, is one of a group of homeless children sleeping on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, many of who are addicted to sniffing glue in order to suppress their appetite and in some ways psychologically escape their circumstances. They survive on the streets by nearly any means necessary but are more often victimized by others.
Docked on the shores of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, these families carry on all of their daily activities on small boats. At dusk, You Hai Yati, 4, washes herself in these waters. It is the same water that she and her family drink and use to cook every day. She is the youngest daughter of Y You, 50 and Soh Nop, 40. They have seven children. All of them have never gone to school, as their parents could not afford it. They could not read or write at all and only one of them has had a job rather than fishing along with their parents. They have lived there since the fall of Khmer Rouge in 1979. They own no land or house. They own one boat and two-year old fishing net that they keep repairing.
Ayisha, 10, rests on her small bucket of metals that she scavenged at a burn site for e-waste. She will weigh and recycle the metals for money. Along with other children, she works at breaking down and extracting the precious metals from old computers with their bare hands and magnets. There are no environmental regulations as no one is wearing a mask or protective clothing at the site. Much of these waste materials are burned, exposing the children to toxic fumes. Ayisha lives in Old Fatima, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, with a group of children who have no parents and no education. They are impoverished children that have been left here with few options in life.
Marjyama, 27, the mother of 2-year-old twin girls, has been homeless living under a "Do Not Urinate Here," sign she made in the city of Accra, Ghana, in West Africa. She came to the city seeking work but now hopes to someday return to her home in a farming village in the north and once again be near family. Many girls leave their families hoping to find opportunity for a better life in the city but become exploited, pregnant and unable to return home or care for their children.
In the forefront, Ester Cooper, 14, sits on a bucket due to leakage of urine as she awaits her second fistula repair after her first failed. She lost her child during birth, and her family has cast her aside. Behind her is Kpana Suno, 21, awaiting her third operation in the hope that this repair will work and she will be able to return to school. The girls can sit on buckets from six to eight hours at a time in the hospital and all lack sleep because of this condition.
Virgil Leanta, 60, lives in fear of eviction with his wife Stela Paun, 60, in a house that they don’t own in Slatina, Romania. Her husband has no government identification so he can’t get any financial help. Stela suffers from diabetes and gets free medicine from the hospital every month. She receives financial help from the government in the amount of 120 Romanian Lei, equivalent to $28. They survive eating snails they catch in the pond behind the house and eggs from their three chickens. Without electricity they use candles to illuminate inside the house. The recent loss of their horse they used to pull their cart has been a hardship.
In Bucharest, Romania, the Opiteanu family wrapped plastic tarps around heating pipes to make a home in a park located in a wealthy area. It keeps them warm in the cold winters. Their 15-month-old, Robert Opiteanu, peers out of a clear panel in the early morning looking for his mother. She left before sunrise to buy flowers at market to repackage and sell at the train station. His father works carrying groceries for wealthy people. The squatters hope not to be evicted from their makeshift home.
Brothers Jefferson Liedo Guzman, 6, center, and Ronaldino Liendo Guzman, 10, right, play soccer while passing the time for their mother to return home from work. Their makeshift home where they are squatting in the hills of Lima, Peru has no electricity, running water or a bathroom. Their mother, a victim of domestic violence sings on the street and on buses to support them. Sometimes the boys accompany her singing on buses.
At bedtime domestic violence victims, Erika Orihuela Gonzales nurses her youngest child Naisha, 2, while her oldest daughter Josselin Carhuallanqui, 16, in the background, does the same for her child, Dayron, 8 months. In total, this family of six live day to day on two to four dollars per day, in addition to what Josselin might earn, if and when she can find work. Dayron suffers from asthma and Josselin had just lost her job that day. Every day Erika walks with her children in Lima, Peru pushing a baby cart as the children help her recycle. The children can’t attend school because they are needed to work.
Manuela Illari, 45, center, is helped by her two daughters Berta Huanca Illari, 1, and Nora Huanca Illari, 11, while working in the potato fields in exchange for food to feed her family and animals in Santiago de Okola, Bolivia. Nora goes to school in the morning and then comes to work in the fields until sunset watching her little sister and sharing the farming duties with her mother.