Indian children taught civic and gender rights by charity part-funded by Australian aid

Indian children taught civic and gender rights by charity part-funded by Australian aid

Indian children taught civic and gender rights by charity part-funded by Australian aid

Updated 13 April 2017, 21:30 AEST

Children in some of Mumbai's poorest slums are learning how to stand up for themselves thanks in part to Australian aid, which has been slashed in recent years due to budget pressures.

The Shivaji Nagar slum, in east Mumbai, is situated next to the city's biggest dump.

Many of the families who call it home make a meagre living picking through its piles for anything of value to sell.

But a group of children is being taught gender and civic rights through a program part funded by Australia.

Upset with squalid toilets, they decided to raise their voices.

One teenager, Sayenna Sinhe, explains that the group wrote to civic authorities.

"For one month no action was taken on the issue," Sayenna said through coordinator Sara Hasan.

"They [the children] went back again and they told them that nothing has happened.

"After that... steps were taken."

The charity helping them, Apnalaya, was started in the 1970s by Australia's then consul-general to Mumbai, Tom Holland.

Its driving force for 40 years has been its British-born president, Annabel Mehta.

"The problems in India are so vast," Ms Mehta said.

"Even though the economy is improving, there's huge amounts of work to be done."

Ms Mehta is also the mother-in-law of Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

He raises money for the charity and is effusive in his praise for her work.

"They [the children] are unpolished diamonds right now, and she's helping them become polished diamonds and achieve what they want to be in life," Tendulkar told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a trip this week to Mumbai.

Mr Turnbull met some of the participating children and described the work as "an example of empowerment".

"Remember girls, you can do anything," he told them.

Australian aid funding supports a range of Apnalaya's programs, including the girls' portion of Gender Through Sport, setting up a training office and establishing a female-run creche in the slums to allow mothers to go to work.

It has also purchased two paper plate-making machines and taught disabled residents to use them, so they can earn a living.

Australian aid funding small-scale projects directly

Since 2015, the Coalition Government has cut more than $1 billion in foreign aid.

Australia's aid budget is now at the lowest level it has been in eight years, at just 0.2 per cent of gross national income (GNI).

But Ms Mehta says small-scale direct aid can still have a meaningful impact.

"This is where I think the Australians have been lovely... because we can come to them with something that maybe isn't of immediate appeal to others," she said.

"But it seems that your government is responsive to helping these sorts of things."