Bhavnagar city and district is situated in the region of Saurashtra in southwest Gujarat. When Shaishav started in Bhavnagar, the population was around 400,000 (Census of India 1991). Presently the population is around 500,000 (Census of India 2001). The development of heavy industry in the city is limited, but informal, small-scale industries proliferate in the low-income areas. The main industries are diamond polishing, plastic rope making, weaving and recycling and recycling of scrap from Alang ship breaking yard, 50 kilometers away. The region is a drought prone area, so migrants come to the city to find seasonal work or settle permanently.
The Shaishav founders chose Bhavnagar, a city neither knew too well, mainly because at the time no organisation in Saurashtra was consistently working on issues related to under privileged children. At the outset, no data existed on the number of child workers in Bhavnagar. The city was also once a centre of learning and home to some of the eminent educationists in the country.
A preliminary observation over three months in mid-1994 estimated the number of child workers in Bhavnagar to be more than 8,000. A more detailed survey followed from January to April 1995. This was done with the financial as well as administrative support of SPARC. Volunteers combed the city trying to establish the number of child workers. The survey counted 12,813 children below 18 working in Bhavnagar. Of these, 37 percent were girls, and 63 percent boys. As many as 58 percent earned less than Rs. 500 per month and up to 60 percent worked for 8 to 12 hours everyday. Out of the total number of children included in the survey, 68 percent had never been to school. From among 32 percent who had attended school, about 80 percent children had left before they reached 7th standard. The ratio of literate male to female child workers was 2:1. This was the largest study done by any grass-root organisation in India and the findings become the premises to plan our strategy and programmes.
In March-April 1996, a sample survey was done in collaboration with PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), a Delhi-based organisation. This study sought to understand the occupational hazards and effects of labour on children’s health. It found children in 106 different kinds of work in Bhavnagar, identified 17 occupations that were hazardous to children. The study randomly identified 227 children in Bhavnagar doing hazardous work to determine the health hazards they encountered. The occupations included tasks related to diamond polishing, plastic industries, construction work, in iron re-rolling mills, making incense sticks and working in tea and food stalls.