Cherishing children of a lesser god

There are nearly a million street children in the five major cities in India, including Bengaluru. Many more live in other towns and cities. Hundreds of thous-
ands of them lead a nightmarish existence.

They are half-fed, ill-clad and do not have the benefits of medicare and education, the hallmark of a civilised society. Theirs is a long and unending story of agony and suffering.
The term ‘street children’ in a very narrow sense may suggest children such as
those popularly known as rag pickers.

A few decades ago, children wandering the streets were identified by their occupation or by what they did to survive. Rag pickers, vendors, shoe-shine boys, porters, etc are terms used to describe them.

There are many factors that drive children onto the streets. Some of them are poverty at home, the conflicts in the family and lack of love and attention at home.

Added to these are social factors such as pressure from peers to move away from home and attraction of city life as compared to the life of the rural areas and psychological factors like the need to assert one’s independence, the need for more attention, and so on.

Street children live in an environment devoid of the affection, love, care and comfort of a family life. They are compelled by circumstances to struggle to fulfill their most basic needs like food and shelter at a very tender, impressionable age.

Deprived of all the things, they covet in their childhood and are therefore aware of the chasm of difference that exists between them and normal children.

These children are vulnerable to all ranges of weather conditions be it the burning heat of summer, the rainstorms or the chilly winter nights.

These children do not suffer merely from physical homelessness, but also from a psychological homelessness since they have nowhere to go. The streets provide no comfort, and society does not accept them.

Street children live in an atmosphere of continued physical and mental strain. Many of them rummage through the garbage to find food; others go hungry for days, drinking water or taking to drugs to diminish their pangs of hunger.

All street children suffer from severe malnutrition and various kinds of defici-encies. The consumption of tobacco, alcohol or drugs retards their growth at an early age.
Due to exposure to dust and other pollutants while they work near traffic junctions and other congested places, they suffer from bronchitis, asthma and even severe tuberculosis.

Since they do not have the opportunity to bathe for several days at a time, and because of the unhygienic conditions in which they live, they are prone to skin diseases such as scabies, ulcers and rashes.

Taken advantage of

Many street children have no knowledge or have limited knowledge about hygiene or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

As a result, they encounter sexual and reproductive health problems such as STDs, HIV / AIDS (common to street boys and girls), unwanted pregnancies, premature births and abortions.

Besides the police, the street children are frequently taken advantage of by the underworld gangsters or by older street boys who bully them and use them to achieve their own ends.

If the children do not oblige, they are threatened, beaten and sometimes, in extreme cases, even killed.

The general misconception is that street children are drug addicts and peddlers. They are uncontrollable and violent, have no emotions or moral values, and so on.

Thus, these children are treated with hatred and contempt. People tend to be unsympathetic and indifferent to the actual plight of street children.

This lack of social acceptance is what pushes them away from the mainstream society and forces them to survive on the fringes of the social system.

But they need to be urgently saved They are the victims of crime and some times, of the criminal law.

The tragic plight of these street children is a powerful image of the deprivation, hunger, abuse and obsessive grip of poverty which pushes them into crime, which is
just one of the harsh facts of their upbringing in the streets. These children are a deep
and disturbing trend in the society.

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