For children, streets no place to live

What goes on your mind when children at road intersections offer you a toy, flowers or whatever for a negotiable price? That they are a menace to the movement of traffic and pedestrians and must be prosecuted or that they must be made to do something worthwhile?

Religious environs, railway platforms, bus stands, parks, markets, pedestrian pathways and spaces beneath the bridges are ‘home’ to about 1.8 million street children” in India. Humiliated, harassed and abused by the society, they struggle for livelihood and survival. A classical film Salaam Bombay unravels the trials and tribulations that street children undergo.

Even after all these years we remain apathetic to their plight. The International Day for Street Children on January 31 annually since 2009 is an initiative of the Austrian charity Jugend Eine Welt to highlight the concerns of millions of street children world over. The Consortium for Street Children observes this day on April 12 since 2011.
Magnitude of the problem of street children, two-third of them boys, varies across regions and cities. Left out from surveys and census data, they remain invisible, hence also labelled as ‘hidden children’.

About 40% of them are 11-15 years and another 33% 6-10 years; about 90% live on the street with their families. Rag picking, working at hotels, factories or construction sites, selling petty items and begging are their main sources of livelihood.

Due to their vulnerable condition, many land into chain of drug trade or prostitution. They stay in group, yet half of them are subjected to physical or sexual abuse, a third of street children reported having been taken into police custody. The apex court had passed orders for establishing one 24x7 shelter per one lakh population in city like Mumbai for the homeless with provision for meals and setting up Anganwadis through the ICDS in locations with high concentration of street children.

The Child line India Foundation (CIF), the country's first nodal toll-free tele-helpline for street children in distress operates in 366 cities/districts in 34 states and UTs through a network of 700-odd partner organisations across India. In recent months, Child Line rescued abducted girl in Guna (MP), Bareilly (UP) and Mangaluru (Karnataka), traced missing girls from Jharkhand and rescued 78 children from the Indore railway station.

Identity issue
Considering that rehabilitation of street children has been difficult since four-fifth of them have no identification, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the national body for welfare of such children decided to provide Aadhaar cards for them; enrolment of children and Anganwadi wor­kers/ helpers has already begun.

This measure will enable them to avail government benefits like admission in schools, health insurance, bank accounts and financial sponsorship for families to support medical and nutritional expenses of a child. For dealing with deviant children special juvenile police units are being created.

The NCPCR’s special project ‘Street to School’ in Jharkhand is already functional in Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Dhanbad, which have high density of slum dwellers. Emphasis is on capacity building of existing schools and quality improvement with support from corporate sector.

Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the apex world body taking care of child rights to which India is signatory, asserts that “state parties recognise the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”

However, these rights cannot be exercised when a child is outside the family or home. It is within the family, which Pope John XXIII called “the first essential cell of human society” that foundation of child’s growth and development is laid.

Institutional care has its own perils. A UK charity, Save the Children reported, “Young children in institutional care are more likely to suffer from poor health, physical under development ad deterioration in brain growth, development delay and emotional attachment disorders. Consequently, these children have reduced intellectual, social and behavioural abilities compared with those growing up in a family home.”

What they need is one-to-one interaction. “Mankind owes to the child the best it has to give” said Henry Fielding. So, when you find children on the streets, rather than cursing them, consider how best they can be rehabilitated.

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