For many of us, having access to a toilet is something we take for granted. However, for more than 1.1 billion people around the globe, toilets are not readily available and so they are forced to defecate in the open, leading to poor sanitation for everyone. To combat this, the Indian government has created a scheme that aims to encourage and cultivate better toilet habits amongst children by’ paying them to poo’.
For many, defecating in fields, bushes, water and other open spaces is simply a habit formed due to lack of proper facilities. This is extremely unhygienic and can lead to serious health issues, particularly in children, as thousands of children die annually due to diseases transmitted through human excrement.
The problem is particularly bad in India as almost half of the population – estimated to be around 590 million people – are used to pooping in the open. For most, this is a part of the daily routine when public facilities aren’t available. It’s thought that faecally transmitted infections are the main reason almost half of Indian children under the age of five are underdeveloped.
In the slums of Chandoliya in Ahmadabad, many use the railway tracks as their bathroom, particularly in the mornings before the crowds and heat grow. Anil Prajapati, chairman of the Gujarat Sanitation Development Organisation, says: “We’ve made public toilets but people still don’t use them. Some of these people fear that there are witches inside or that their children will be kidnapped. These people have come from small villages, and so they are not used to the practice.”
Hopefully, this will all change as a state council in the Gujarati city of Ahmadabad has created a scheme where children receive money for using public toilets. Those backing the scheme are hoping that the countries health will improve and they will see a decrease in diseases like diarrhea, which kills around 200,000 children a year.
“We have 320 public toilets and we are not taking any payment in 143 toilets,” said Dr Bhavin Solanki, a health officer at Ahmadabad Municipal Council.
“We have observed some children are still doing open defecation just in front of the pay-and-use. So we realised we have to introduce some other scheme. We are giving one rupee (less than a penny) to the children per day, or we’re giving them chocolates to encourage use of the toilets.”
Five-year-old Bhumi Datadia is one of the children who can’t wait to use the scheme. She lives in a room with her two siblings and her parents; a nearby river was the only alternative to public toilets available. “Look at the size of my house,” Bhumi’s mother, Jayashree said. “Where do I have space to build a toilet?”
Now, Bhumi makes one rupee a day when she uses the public toilet and records her visits on a card. “The toilets are good,” said Bhumi. “I will use the money I make for school.”
If the scheme is successful in Ahmadabad, the city council hopes to start paying adults to use the toilets as well. “The idea is to understand you are rewarded for good behaviour,” said D Thara, commissioner of Ahmedebad Municipal Corporation. “Once children start using the toilets, adults won’t do it any more. Children themselves will become the motivators.”
However, other parts of the city may not adapt so easily. Many say that the toilets are dirty and their children are prohibited from entering as they use too much water. However, others believe there is far more risk if they choose to continue defecating in the open.
“It’s not safe for women to go to the toilet in the open,” said Mr Prajapati. “When they go out at night, anything can happen. It’s happening everywhere in India. We want to stop this.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already made abolishing open defecation throughout India a priority, stating that he want every home to have a toilet by 2019.