Decent Work and Economic Growth

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Amanda Lange Salvia, Tony Wall

Manual Scavengers and Sustainable Development

  • S. P. SreyaEmail author
  • Sigamani Panneer
Living reference work entry


Manual Scavenging

Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning and carrying of human excreta from dry latrines and open areas using primitive instruments such as metal sheets, brooms, buckets, and baskets.

Sustainable Development Goals/Global Goals

Sustainable Development Goals are the universal threshold for action toward development. In general, it includes an objective of sustainability and the elimination of extreme poverty with the delivery of dignified life in specific.


Untouchables are those people who are marginalized, stratified, and often stigmatized based on caste, creed, race, color, and class. This discrimination makes them unable to contribute in the development of an inclusive society.

Lower Middle-Income Countries

According to the World Bank, Lower Middle-Income Countries are those with a GNI per capita between $996 and $3895 (The World Bank 2019).


When the population around the globe is eagerly discussing the importance of human rights and its breaching in diverse ways, a community is being excluded from mainstream society because of their vocation – the manual scavengers. Manual scavenging is considered as the lowest, polluted, and most degrading occupation (Mohan 2018). It is an inhuman practice that is almost invisible, most probably due to the constraints of civil amenities provided to them. Many of them had been deprived of deserving infrastructures such as health, hygiene, food, housing, and most importantly education (Yojana 2018). The manual cleaning of sewers, septic tanks, and manholes exists in foreign countries particularly in several parts of Asia and Europe. But extensive training of at least 2 years and adequate protective gear are being provided to the people taking up this particular vocation. An only exception is a group of Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan which still see manual scavenging as unskilled labor. The global governance had initiated certain steps toward the upliftment of these deprived classes, but the problem mainly emerges at its execution and implementation (The Sanitation Workers Project 2017).

Background and Objectives

The global history of manual scavenging dates back to many centuries. Manual scavenging is found to have existed in Europe around 1214 AD. There existed different ways and forms of manual scavenging in which the people were forced to carry out the cleaning of Wada latrines, dry latrines, Dabba (Jajroo) box collecting, Wadoliya (back yard defecation), open defecation, Kharkua (pit or well), manhole at the sewer lines, septic tanks, and flush latrines. Many changes in the following years, such as the invention of water closet by John Harrington in 1596 and the invention of flush toilets by S.S. Helior in 1870, made manual scavenging disappear from the Western world (Meenakshisundaram 2012).

According to the UN, many developing countries in the global south are in the dark hands of manual scavenging, which are resourceless and technologically deficient. There is a neobreed of manual scavengers such as Waste Water Workers or Sewer Workers who are appointed solely by the governments of the nations of the global south (Meenakshisundaram 2012). South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India have severe problems regarding manual scavenging and sewage-waste disposal. The major reason is the old and defective drainage system where the technologies cannot penetrate, and the development in this situation is still unperceived. Rapid unplanned urbanization, population explosion, inter-alia alarming increase in slum population, and migration are the core issues to be tackled here. According to an article published by Dawn in March 2019, Karachi (Pakistan) produces more than 1703 million liters of sewage every day. In April, the Pakistan Supreme court ordered all sewers to be cleaned before the monsoon. A month earlier, the court judicial commissioner on water and sanitation dismissed workers who refused to clean sewers (Dawn 2019). This reflects the inadequacy of proper governance and lack of awareness in society. Bangladesh is another Asian country struggling with poor sewage and water disposal. Only 20% of Dhaka, the capital city, is served by a proper sewage network. But most importantly, the city depends on manual labors for the removal of septic tank sludge (Lalwani 2018).

India is not different from its neighbors in the filthy practice of manual scavenging. Sadly, this nauseating occupation continues in the shadows of caste, race, and class. Deemed to be polluting and filthy, manual scavenging is carried out by a subcaste in Dalit, who in turn are considered wretched and untouchable by other subcastes of the Dalit community. According to the Government of India, the Safai Karamchari is a common term used to address manual scavengers which in turn refers to various groups of sweepers and sanitary workers. They are victims of social exclusion by caste, sex, ethnicity, and religion, making them socially disabled who cannot fully participate in the development of a society. Hence these facts make India as an ideal candidate to study about manual scavenging and sustainable development.

The following sections discuss the current scenario of manual scavenging in India. Various social and occupational issues concerning with this low profile job will also be dealt with. National as well as international activities for the eradication of the manual scavenging will be discussed toward the end of the chapter.

Manual Scavenging

Manual scavenging denotes the practice of manually disposing or handling in any manner human excreta from dry latrine and sewers. It often involves the use of basic instruments such as baskets, brooms, and buckets (UN in India 2014). Manual scavenging is referred to as “the worst surviving symbol of untouchability” by National Advisory Council resolution on October 23, 2010. Manual scavenging can be of nine types based on risk exposure, payments, and policy regulations (Table 1).
Table 1

Types of manual scavenginga


Type of work


Urban areas

Sewer cleaning

Cleaning and maintenance of sewers

Complaint based works

Primary urban(mostly unplanned locations)

Fecal sludge

Emptying collection and transport of human waste from septic tanks

De-sludging frequency ranges from 6 months to 10–15 years.

Railway network and railway stations

Railway cleaning

Cleaning of railway tracks, platforms, and toilets

Primarily rural

Latrine cleaning

Daily disposal of fecal matter from dry/single pit latrines

Sewage treatment plant/fecal sludge treatment plant

Treatment plant work

Maintenance and operation of sewage and fecal sludge treatment plants

Community and public toilets (rural and urban)

Community/public toilet cleaning

Daily maintenance and cleaning of public/community toilets (often insanitary)

Schools toilets (rural and urban)


Daily maintenance and cleaning of school toilets

Urban drains alongside roads

Sweeping/drain cleaning

Cleaning open drains and road sweeping, often encountering fecal matter due to open defecation and insanitary latrines connected to drains

Urban areas

Domestic toilets cleaning works

Cleaning toilets in middle-high income households/institutions encountering often unsanitary conditions

aSource: adapted from Sanitation Workers Project (2018) and Anahitaa (2018)

Social Concerns and Issues

The village population in itself is an amalgamation of all the castes and subcastes living in an outfit of a social hierarchy, which even divides the profession with a sound influence of caste status. The upper caste claims the central and more core social status which enjoys accessibility of civil amenities such as food, shelter, transportation, career choices, religious privileges, etc. As the hierarchy compasses down, the social privileges shrink. So, people who are at the bottom of the caste pyramid are expected to take up jobs such as manual scavenging for a living. Manual scavengers are one of the most socially and economically underprivileged communities in India. Though many have taken manual scavenging as employment, social discrimination and stigma associated with the profession make it difficult for them to find an alternative livelihood.

Due to the deep-rooted patriarchal ideas in the caste systems, most of the low-paid, dehumanizing jobs fall to women. Of the millions of manual scavengers, most are women. Bezwada Wilson who was honored with Raman Magsaysay Award in 2016 for his activity for the eradication of manual scavenging says, “Within the Dalit families, women are the one who clean human excreta from dry pit latrine because this task offers the lowest wages. Men are more likely to clean human wastes from railway lines and sewers where wages are high.” Most women crawl into these pits with a basket to empty the human excreta and carry the basket on their heads to dispose of. Concept of purity in the caste-based society further makes their life awful due to active social discrimination. Being forced to take up the vocation of manual scavenging, married women are subjugated, oppressed, and marginalized in social as well as household spheres. This leads to the lack of access to public services, threats of sexual violence, and isolation of their children in schools (ISDN -2017; Shetty 2018).

Manual scavengers and their children are always deprived of education. They are marginalized in terms of caste and are often treated with contempt by teachers. This, in turn, creates a sense of fear among the students in the marginalized group that increases the rate of dropouts in primary school, higher secondary level, and even in the graduation level. The lower rate of literacy directly leads to a lack of awareness about the laws and ample legal sanctions provided to them (ILO Resource Handbook for Ending Manual Scavenging 2015; Shetty 2018).

Occupational Challenges and Problems

The International Labour Organization has stipulated many regulations which make it mandatory to provide a minimum decent work environment to all the workers irrespective of the work profile. Manual scavenging as described earlier is not only a socioeconomic and political but also a developmental and technological problem. It is very disappointing to discover that technology has hardly developed and implemented in this respect. The lack of safety measures and technological advancement is the potential reason behind the adverse working conditions. Manual scavengers are not provided with any safety gears such as gloves, masks, and boots. Manholes, septic tanks, or open sewers are potential sources of poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, methane, etc. Manual scavengers are thus exposed to constrained working conditions, which may lead to medical emergencies. Long-term exposure to these hazardous gases can lead to hypoxia which in turn has a fatal effect.

Other health problems include cardiovascular degeneration, musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritic changes and intervertebral disc herniation, infections such as hepatitis, leptospirosis, helicobacter, skin problems, respiratory system problems, and altered pulmonary function parameters (Indian Legal Solution 2019). Diseases such as Campylobacter infection, Cryptosporidiosis, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, meningitis, rotavirus infection, Salmonella infection, Shigella infection, thrush, viral gastroenteritis, and yersiniosis are also major health concerns for manual scavengers (Krishnan 2018). Since women are hesitant to wear protective gears due to lack of awareness, they are prone to many diseases through close contact with human waste. Since women are largely affected by the haphazard of the vocation, the risk of transference of the infection to other members of the family is more, and a majority of women are involved in household works including cooking and child-rearing.

Manual Scavenging in India: A Case Study

Historical Background

The evolution of manual scavenging as a caste-based vocation can be discussed as preindependence phase and post-independence phase. The preindependence phase may be historically marked by the emergence of the four Varnas that existed in ancient India: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. There were numerous castes and subcastes in these Varnas, which were classified according to the job or socioeconomic activity people were meant to carry out in society. These had been the fundamental rules for segregation of people based on their caste. This brings in the picture of the ultimate definition of social inequality where the division of labor is based on caste. The social, economic, and political transactions among people were solely based on the caste status (Manual Scavenging, Social exclusion of past even today play a crucial role in India’s Sanitation Outcome 2019). Out of the Varnas, the most vulnerable group is Shudras. The Shudras which included numerous castes and subcastes were meant to disseminate services to the other three Varnas – the Brahman, the Kshatriya, and the Vaishya. They were often referred to as “Neechi Jaati” by the dominant castes. They were made to carry out jobs that were considered disgusting according to the societal norms. Along the timeline, the whole caste system moved to a direction where the “Savarnas” got the maximum profit as the “Avarnas” were always manipulated in the name of development (D’souza 2016).

The colonial rule that lasted in India for almost 200 years did not bring any considerable change in the caste system. The British never wanted to interfere in this deeply rooted ritual that earned them no profit. In the fake name of empowerment, they recruited a large number of untouchables in the army as they were good at labor. Thus, the Avarnas who were employed were gradually in the path of education and enlightenment. It took years for these disadvantaged classes to realize that they are deprived of the deserving amenities and economic space. The emergence of Dalit literature and the rise of numerous native Dalit leaders opened up the dismal condition that Dalits were forced to follow. The taboos that revolved around the caste system were also widely questioned.

During the postindependence period, there were no considerable steps toward the upliftment of these deprived classes and the elimination of the filthy practices. Since Dr. B R Ambedkar was a member of the constituent assembly and the drafting committee, he gave more stress to bringing in the reservation as the government policy toward uplifting the so-called lower caste and also created room for the implementation of many developmental programs. These programs were presumed to assure a more decent place for the deprived groups in the socioeconomic arena. But as Paulo Freire stressed in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” it took decades for the oppressed class to realize that they were oppressed, and their chances to lead a decent and dignified life have been purposefully denied by the dominant class. Moreover, the caste-based occupations of these marginalized groups were not omitted completely from the fabric of Indian society but rather survived in different forms (Kamble 2002).

The Magnitude of Manual Scavenging in India

According to the sect. 2(1) (g) of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, a manual scavenger is defined as “a person engaged or employed for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit” (Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013). Apart from doing the disgusting occupation of carrying the night soil or filth, they are also forced to carry out “polluting tasks” such as disposing of dead animals (Joshi 2019), cleaning placenta after delivery, and also various funeral related activities (Manual Scavenging in India The Practice, The Remedial Initiatives, The Shortcomings & The Challenges A Snapshot View 2018). These caste-based occupational groups in India constitute a socially, economically, emotionally, and politically marginalized section of the society. Being labeled illegal and illegitimate for more than 20 years, the magnitude of manual scavengers in India is more than 1.2 million, of which 95% are women.

There are 2.6 million dry latrines in India. Among these 13,14, 652 toilets, human excreta are flushed in open drains. 7,94, 390 dry latrines are cleaned manually, which in turn has its 73% in the rural area and 27% in the urban area (Housing list and Housing Census). There is a wider argument that the issue of manual scavenging is often intercalated into the issue of insanitary latrines. Though the fact exists that the former is the issue of human dignity and the latter is the sanitation issue, it cannot be denied that there is a cause-effect relationship between them. According to the Census 2011, 7,94,000 cases of manual scavenging were reported across India. The greatest violator of the government legislation and jurisdiction are government departments. The most prominent of them is the Indian Railways where more sewage workers are appointed. According to the report on “Manual Scavengers Survey in Statutory Towns as dated on 17th November 2018,” there are 4618 manual scavengers in the statutory towns in the whole of India. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh is on the top of the list with 2648 scavengers who manually clean the dry latrines, sewers, and septic tanks. The data provided by “Indiastat” reveals that the number of manual scavengers identified under the Manual Scavengers Act 2013 in India is 13,657, where the state Uttar Pradesh is at the top with 11,247 manual scavengers leading pathetic and soiled lives (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

State/UT-wise number of identified manual scavengers as on 30.06.2018. (Press Information Bureau, Government of India 2018)

According to the Socioeconomic and Caste Census 2011, there are 1,80,657 manual scavengers in India. Approximately 600 manual scavengers die every year, which is more than the soldiers dying due to terrorist activities each year. The disparity in the data provided is the first and foremost gap to be bridged, as clarified and robust data is the basis of every developmental initiative for a nation. The vital statistics are the basic data required by the government to initiate any developmental programs, and this part is overlooked by the officials and the so-called bureaucratic system. There is a serious problem of caste involved in the issue, where the political will behind the issue may also be questioned.

Milestones Toward the Upliftment of Manual Scavengers

Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar had self-defining but contrary ideologies about manual scavenging. According to Gandhi, manual scavenging is a godly occupation and there is no class as untouchable only because they carry the manual feces and clean the toilets. As per his views, everyone should be their manual scavenger, i.e., everyone should clean their defecation. In short, Gandhi was not against the vocation nor he took some steps toward abolishing the occupation as such. But he was against the discrimination and marginalization that was coupled with the occupation.

Ambedkar was primarily against the vocation as he found it as a serious breaching of the basic right of mankind: Right toward the dignity of life. He was determined in the abolition of social evil and restoring the group of people through occupational rehabilitation. The major aims behind his steps were to provide them with an opportunity to acquire a dignified life and also laddering them up in the social strata (Hanchinamani 2001).

The constitution of India acted as a backbone to the struggle of these deprived groups, as it stressed on the right to live with dignity. The major verdicts of the Supreme Court prove that the majoritarian views are never declared as justice. When we go deep into history it can be observed that there has been a constant fight between the majoritarianism and constitution at every issue raised in India. Figure 2 shows the cascading steps being taken by the government to end this caste apartheid and poverty, perpetuated by the practice of manual scavenging.
Fig. 2

Milestones toward eradicating manual scavenging. (Source: developed from Aswini 2017, Krishnan 2018, and Chandra 1999)

In 1949, the Government of Bombay appointed a committee to pry on the living conditions of manual scavengers which were headed by V. N. Barve whose report was submitted in 1952. The report recommended that the state should survey the living conditions of the scavengers to improve their working conditions and guarantee them a minimum wage that would ensure a dignified life to the group. The Ministry of Home Affairs circulated a copy of major recommendations of this committee to all the state governments and asked them to adopt it in 1955. In 1953, First Backward Class Commission under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar was appointed which submitted its report in 1955. It described the condition of sweepers and scavengers that undermined humanity, and the need was emphasized to introduce mechanical and up-to-date methods to clean latrines. In 1956, the government formulated the Central Advisory Board of Harijan Welfare chaired by Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, the then Minister of Home Affairs. The board reviewed the working condition and the living condition of sweepers and scavengers in the country. It also recommended for introduction of a centrally sponsored scheme for the well-being of manual scavengers and their dependent family members.

In 1957, the Malkani Committee headed by N. R. Malkani was constituted to prepare a scheme to put an end to the practice of manual scavenging. It submitted a report in 1960 which gave a detailed enquiry of the labor relations, labor conditions, educational facilities, and housing problems of various scavenging communities. The report also explained a strategic plan for the Centre and the State which aims to end Manual Scavenging by third Five Year Plan. In 1965 the Committee on Customary Rights chaired by Prof. N.R. Malkani was established to abolish the Customary Rights of the scavengers. The report was submitted in 1966 which recommended the dismantling of the hereditary task structure under the not-municipalized clean private latrines.

On 24th December 1966, the Government of India appointed a National Commission on Labor chaired by Prasad Pandya to study the changes in labor condition since Independence and to recommend guidelines regarding wage levels, living standards, social security, industrial relations, labor legislation, and a system for labor surveys. In 1969, during Gandhi Centenary Year, a special program to convert dry latrines to water-borne flush latrines was undertaken but failed in the pilot stage. In 1980, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced a scheme for the conversion of dry latrines into sanitary latrines and rehabilitation of liberated scavengers and their dependents in selected towns by employing them in dignified occupations. This scheme was transferred from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Welfare (Aswini 2017). The scheme covered a limited population with very few people rehabilitated through the scheme. In 1991, the scheme was bifurcated by the Planning Commission. The Ministry of Urban Development and the Ministry of Rural Development were responsible for the conversion of dry latrines into flush latrines. The Ministry of Welfare (renamed as Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) was responsible for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

In 1989, the Planning Commission appointed a Task Force (Basu Task Force) to deal with: (i) the dimension of scavenging in terms of population, families, and towns; (ii) analysis of the full magnitude of problems; (iii) examining the type of interventions including legal measures required; and (iv) identifying the agencies dealing with it in a well-coordinated manner. In 1992, the Ministry of Welfare introduced the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and dependents but had little effect. The separate National Commission for Scheduled Caste came into existence in 2004 (Aswini 2017). The Constitution of India by its body and soul illegalizes this inhuman practice. It is clearly stated through Articles 14, 17, 21, and 23, to stop the inhuman vocation of manual scavenging.

“Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013” came into force on sixth December 2013. Even though this act rectified the major shortcomings of the 1993 Act, this was not enough to read out the problems and to propose a sustainable solution. According to section 2 g (b), the person handling excreta with the help of “protective gear” shall not be deemed a manual scavenger and will work as a sewage worker. Section 2(g) narrowly focused on manual scavenging, and no attention has been paid to the work of sewage workers (Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013). Since 1993, there had not been a single case of prosecution of people who hire workers for manual scavenging, and a large number of government bodies continue to violate the laws (Safai Karamchari Andolan 2019).

Sustainable Development Goals and Manual Scavenging

Sustainable Development Goals were presented in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The Sustainable Development Goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which started a global effort in 2000 to tackle the multiple problems and issues faced by the global population in different realms namely political, social, and cultural scenarios. The Sustainable Development Goal 8 explains and depicts a gap to be filled which in turn is explained “to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, a productive environment and decent work for all.” Dignity and economic growth are the two factors that need to be improved for the development of manual scavengers. The economic growth in itself is the golden standard for every nation to ensure the basic amenities to every citizen. The basic difference between a rich nation and a poor nation lies in the ease of finding the solution to the contemporary problems faced by the citizens; may it be social, financial, political, or even technological. The economic growth in the case of manual scavengers will uplift and open them into a wide range of opportunities where they will be welcomed with more choices enriched with equality and dignity.

There are multiple lenses through which manual scavenging is to be viewed to ensure the explicit implication of the eighth Goal of Sustainable Development Goals (UNDP: SDGs 2019). Some of the views from the crowd of thinkers say that technology is the solution for manual scavenging. But looking into the glorious history of technological deliberations, we will surely be amused to see that technology creates turbulence and distortion in the employment rate, which when applied in case of manual scavenging is not a different story. When technological advancements have been unleashed into the field, the employment of the eligible manual scavengers will be challenged. So to ensure the economic growth and sustainability, the global organizations, as well as the member states especially those of the global south, have to empower themselves with multipronged solutions. On the one hand, technological advancement and innovations are to be ensured to have space, and on the other hand, there has to be an increase in opportunities and alternative employment options (ILO 2019).

Mexico-Ecological Sanitation Model

Mexico has been one of the world leaders for good sanitation and sewage disposal. The country focuses both on imparting adequate knowledge to the commons and also in capacity building in the local as well as the higher levels. Mexico has set a well-established example in the field of dry sanitation. Ecological sanitation model is a waste management model that treats human excreta, waste/wash water, and urine as agricultural resources that can be safely collected, stored, and treated. Also, Mexico has introduced certain pilot insurance schemes for domestic workers which cover their disability and provide health insurance. (Mexico - Social security protection for domestic employees 2019).

Malaysian Model

In Malaysia, sewage management has evolved in a phased manner from a primitive system to more mechanical and automated system. This is due to the incorporation of technologies into the field. The technological innovations along with the capacity building in every level have equipped the sanitation workers to rely on machinery to clean the sewer system (Lalwani 2018).

The successful models in these countries persisted and sustained for a long period due to several factors including the capacity building where the sanitation workers are educated and trained to use the equipment for sewage cleaning. Here the sanitation workers are approached with an inclusive mindset and are guaranteed a minimum decent work environment. This step is a major milestone toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal toward decent work and economic growth.

Micro-Entrepreneurship Model

Hyderabad is largely urbanized with 173 km of trunk lines and approximately 6083 km of internal lines. The infrastructure is to be upgraded and improved. The human intervention is needed for cleaning even the open drains which are embedded with solid waste and construction debris. Thus to find a solution for the debris and cult the human interference in the whole process of cleaning, a four-pronged approach was adopted by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewage Board (HMWSSB) which necessarily included awareness and behavior change, tech-based interventions, and infrastructural up-gradation standard operating procedure and guidelines. As part of the technology-based intervention, the HMWSSB deployed 70 mini-jetting machines through the microenterprise model. The machine was developed by HMWSSB and was manufactured by Kam-Avida Enviro Engineers Pvt. Ltd. This is the most adapted solution for the problem with easy mobility and flexibility with guild-edged features (The Sanitation Workers Project 2019).

Public Community Partnership (PCP) Model

Faridpur, Bangladesh, being a budding city, is struggling with unsafe handling and disposal of fecal waste. Even though 94% of households in Faridpur have access to toilets, 90% of the fecal sludge in Faridpur is managed unsafely and 30% of the onsite systems are emptied manually. Practical Action initiated a multipronged fecal sludge management approach in 2014 to improve the sanitation. This included the PCP model which in itself is a formal, structured system put in place to emptying and de-sludging. Here a participatory approach is adopted where the leverages community networks in groups were associated with this work. Thus the formalization of workers into a cooperative helps increase stability and potential income for workers (The Sanitation Workers Project 2018).

Working toward an Equal Society: Role of the Organizations

The UN has taken a strict stand on the issue of manual scavenging by giving out a set of guidelines and handbooks for the developing countries especially the southern Asian countries where there is a serious breaching of human rights. The organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the International Labour Organization have come up with their version of description and recommendation on the abolition of manual scavenging. Since manual scavenging as a vocation still exists in India, the work toward the eradication of this reductive occupation is concentrated in India. International organizations, especially the UN, have put forward many conventions that are dedicated to the elimination of the inhuman vocation of manual scavenging. Some of the conventions which dedicatedly work toward the abolishing of manual scavenging are the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (United Nations Digital Library 2019).

Various Organizations across the World Working toward the Eradication of Manual Scavenging and their Forms of Initiations Are Enlisted Below*

United Nations
  • Published reports and operational guidelines for the elimination of manual scavenging.

  • International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

  • International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969).

  • Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992).

United Nations Development Programme
  • Published a report titled “Social Inclusion of Manual Scavengers” and organized a National Round Table Discussion in collaboration with the UN Solution Exchange (Gender Community of Practice) in New Delhi, India on December 2012.

International Bank for Rural Development – World bank
  • A project named “SEWA 2025 Digital Financial Inclusion of Informal Sector’” is initiated which aims to foster the digital financial services by the women in the informal sector which targets women from low income and marginalized households and excluded communities.

United States Agency for International Development
  • Partnership for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), education, gender equality, financial inclusion, and for the better future of Indian women and children.

Department for International Development
  • Growth, Resources, Opportunities and Wealth Creation in Bihar (GROW Bihar).

  • Poorest States Inclusive Growth Programme.

  • Skills for Job Programme.

International Development Research Centre
  • Gender lens investing: Contribution to Women’s Economic Empowerment and Way Forward.

Safai Karamchari Andolan (India)
  • Legal awareness, advocacy.

  • Identified ~3 lakh manual scavengers.

Sulabh International (India)
  • Works focused in Rajasthan.

  • Construction of sanitary latrines with simultaneous rehabilitation.

  • More than 400 sanitary workers were impacted.

Jan Sahas (India)
  • Work focused in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.

  • Advocacy and rehabilitation.

  • More than 30,000 workers impacted.

*Source: extracted from Breakfree: Rehabilitating Manual scavengers 2017, UNDP 2019, IBRD-WB 2018, USAID 2018, Department of International Development: the UK 2019, IDRC-International Development Research Centre: Canada 2019, Safai Karamchari Andolan, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (2019), Jan Sahas Social Development Society (2019), United nations Digital Library and Sanitation Workers Project: Dalberg Advisory.


The inhuman practice of manual scavenging is driven by communal and fiscal factors. Despite the rigorous monitoring of laws, manual scavenging is still relentless in our community. The set of suggestions thereof are presented through this entry where light is shed about the prospective roles of the global governance, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals.


The term “manual scavenging” is to be removed as it has become a normative undignified identity. The nations should take a special effort to convert the occupation of manual scavenging into skilled labor where rigorous training is been imparted. The distribution of necessary safety equipments and protective gears is to be explicitly imposed while cleaning sewers. The need for a strong political will for the abolition of manual scavenging is demanded wherein the ideologies of the people, the key stakeholders, and the policymakers should rise above the caste, race, and gender and work toward a more equal and egalitarian society. The global governance should take special steps toward the liberation of manual scavengers by organizing them into unions. The governments should take up multipronged solutions where, along with the introduction of technology into the field, it should also focus on the generation of the alternate economic opportunities. The committees should be formed at the local level to check the implementation of the legislation against manual scavengers.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Specific research is to be carried out on the health hazards of the Dalit workers. Apart from the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the more feasible model of Public Community Partnership should be encouraged to counter the problem of manual scavenging as this may impart a sense of collective responsibility among the people.


Individuals should take a step to understand the ill effects of the caste system and incorporate the marginalized people to ensure an inclusive society. The individuals should get educated about the whole phenomena of manual scavenging and thus actively participate in the programs organized by the government or NGOs.


Manual Scavenging is a serious breach of the fundamental right to dignity of living and is considered as stigmatizing a group of people with discrimination, untouchability, and marginalization. Manual scavenging is against a wide range of SDGs which are the threshold for the welfare and well-being of the global population. Even though these facts exist, these social evils still exist in the darker pockets of society, where education, awareness, and ways of social controls have still not penetrated. The need of the hour is to implement the laws that have been made for the sake of the dignified living of the unprivileged and underprivileged groups of people who are worn out doing depleting jobs. The neglect of the global governance toward the issue by projecting this as caste-based makes it multipronged where the victims strive hard to come out of this vicious cycle. Awareness, education, and technological incorporation into the field can bring a prospect to the people who are bound to this vocation. It can open a wide range of opportunities and a ray of hope for a bright future in their life.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Work, School of Social Sciences and HumanitiesCentral University of Tamil NaduThiruvarurIndia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Rimjhim M Aggarwal
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Sustainability Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA