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DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Mohammad Raju ran away from his poor family in Bangladesh's southern Khulna district eight years ago, hoping for a better life in the capital, Dhaka.
Instead, his life got worse. His tiny income from selling chocolates in the sprawling parliament compound in Dhaka left him hungry and homeless.
"I used to earn up to 20 taka ($0.30) in a day which was in no way enough to survive. Sometimes policemen, who were on duty at the parliament compound, gave me their spare food. Still I spent many days with little or no food," Raju told Reuters.
Raju's life changed after he discovered an unlikely profession for a street child: banking.
The 16-year-old boy started working for the Children's Development Bank, a Bangladesh-based lender that is owned by a non-government organization and managed by street children. He now earns 2,000 taka ($30) a month and can save a portion of his income.
His workplace looks like any other Bangladesh bank, with counters and a cash and ledger book -- except for the fact that the bank clerks are unusually young.
Raju has been promoted to the post of program assistant at the bank and is now a paid employee, working under an adult supervisor. But most of the children who work here are volunteers wanting to learn new skills and contribute to a system that allows them to save money and earn some interest on their savings. Others simply deposit their money at the bank, which is open two hours a day, without becoming involved as volunteers.
"Often they spoil the money earned through hard labor by taking drugs or watching movies. Our bank keeps it safe for their future," said Basudeb Maitra, coordinator of the Children's Development Bank.
"Street children who have a valid source of income and are not involved in pick-pocketing, begging, drug-selling, pilfering can bank with us," said Maitra.
Aparajeyo-Bangladesh, the organization that owns the bank, has received a tremendous response from working children aged 9 to 18 since opening the institution in late 2004. If the volunteers prove to be good at banking, the organization offers them vocational training.
"They can open an account with Taka 10 ($0.15) and can deposit the money whenever they wish," said Maitra, adding that bank now has 2,074 depositors in 11 branches in Dhaka and the port city Chittagong.
"Since it is not a business at all, we deposited the entire money collected from the children, which is around taka 450,000 ($65,600), in a commercial bank."
"Butterflies", an Indian organization, pioneered the concept of a bank for children, which has now been adopted by some other organizations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, officials said.
A recent survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies showed that nearly 445,000 children sleep on the street in Bangladesh, and 75 per cent of them live in Dhaka.
Many of these children work as porters, rag pickers, cart pushers or shoe shiners. They help in shops and restaurants and on buses, and sell anything from newspapers to snacks.
Writing by Anis Ahmed, editing by Sophie Hardach