The narrow, crowded streets around the railway stations of most Indian cities are overrun with an army of spirited children hard at work. Largely abandoned by their families, and almost always under the legal working age, the teenagers usually work as tea-makers, shoeshiners or delivery boys, earning less than a couple of dollars a day. In Delhi, though, the children have an extra designation - they are bankers by night.
The Children's Development Khazana is a complete banking system designed for and run by the street children of Delhi. At the end of every work day, the children file into their bank, and deposit most of their day's earnings at one of the brightly painted makeshift 'teller' windows. The tellers and managers are also children - who are elected once every six months by all of the 400-odd members of the bank, and are in charge of the daily operations like depositing savings, updating bank books and lending money to members who need it. The loan grants are decided during monthly member meetings, and are usually for 500 to 1000 rupees (US$10-$20) giving a whole new meaning to the word 'microcredit'.
The bank was originally set up by a charity organization called Butterfiles to teach the children financial responsibility, and to prevent them from using their money for alcohol and drugs. According to Karan, the 14 year old 'manager' - “Children who make money by begging or selling drugs are not allowed to open an account. This bank is only for children who believe in hard work.”
Perhaps there is a future for the world's most hated profession after all.