Tokai Bangla word meaning collector. It usually refers to poor children who collect left out things from streets, dustbins, houses and other public places for recycling. Renowned cartoonist Rafiqunnabi has created the character of a tokai showing how these under privileged children become a victims of poverty, deprivation and insecurity.
In Dhaka City thousands of slum dwellers live in sub-human condition. These poverty stricken families are unable to provide the basic needs of their children. As a result these children are forced to earn. Tokais are the significant part in the informal sector of Dhaka City. Majority of the tokais belong to the age group of 8-15 years but aged tokais are also found. Usually girl tokais are fewer in number than boys. They are mostly illiterate and are new comers to the City. Tokais usually belong to the large size families. Majority of the tokais come from single parent family and sometimes they are deserted by their families also.
The workplace of tokai is mainly in the public spaces, specially bus, train and launch terminals, shopping centres, streets, residential areas, dustbins, etc. To make a living they work up to 10/12 hours a day in very unhygienic environment. Average income of the tokais is less than TK 50 per day. Tokais do not have any skill.
Sometimes tokais work independently or under a group. Tokais usually collect broken glasses, wastepaper, bottles, iron and plastic materials from dustbins, footpaths, roadside drains, waste dumping sites or other places. They collect salvage materials that can be valued at the market and are recyclable. The tokais collect these materials in a sack and carry on their back. When the load gets heavy they sell it to the vangari shops (shops that buy any kind of waste product) in crude and unclean form. As there is no standard price for these salvaged materials, sometimes the buyers exploit the tokais.
Tokais are used by the political parties in processions and in picketing during hartal in exchange of money. As these children are poor, young and illiterate they are often exposed to criminal and immoral activities. Sometimes drug dealers engage them as drug sellers.
NGOs have taken different programmes for the welfare of the tokais. underprivileged children’s educational programme (ucep) started functioning in Dhaka City since 1973. UCEP's main function is to provide children with vocational-cum-primary education, within a span of 4 years. The UCEP's coverage has extended to other cities also. Pathokali Foundation, another government sponsored agency was set up in late 1980's for the welfare of the working and street children, but presently it's activities have been suspended. [Naznin Afrose Huq]