Street Children in India – What are their lives like?
Majority of us are blessed because when we return home from offices, colleges and schools there is a family waiting for us which takes away our tiredness. But all are not that fortunate. Many children in India are deprived off this feeling of family and home. We celebrate every occasion but wonder how street children spend their life and celebrate festivals. They spend their entire life near bus station, railway station, markets, on footpaths, streets etc. Though a well-structured data and number is not available but it is estimated that India has more than 4,00,000 street children. 18 million children work on streets and 5-20% have no connection with their families. Also India has the largest population of street children in the world.
Definition of a Street Child by UNICEF, “…any girl or boy… for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood; and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults”.
UNICEF call street children the most vulnerable group of children in India.
Mark W. Lusk did a research on street children and came out with four categories of street children:
- Children who return to their families at night after working on the street
- Children working on street but with dwindling family ties
- Children who work and live with their families on the street
- Children who work on the street but have no connection with their families
Most of the street children in India are boys but that does not mean girls are not homeless. Homeless girls are subjected to worse conditions in terms of prostitution and all than boys. According to UNICEF, approximately 72% of street children are aged between 6-12 years and 13% are below 6 years of age.
Why do children leave their homes?
Almost all the studies and surveys on street children points out that problem of street children is an urban problem and directly linked to poverty, family disintegration, urbanisation, inadequacy of resources and growing population. But family violence is the major factor that forces these children to leave their homes and make footpath their real home. According to Indian study Subrahmanyarn (Subrahmanyam) & Sondi in 1990 showed that though the poverty is the main reason but family discord is the major problem.
This onset the problem of child labour. Homeless children end up doing hazardous jobs in factories, illegally employed in hotels, canteens, restaurants, construction sites. Without family they are often exploited by the employers who abuse them and pay less wages. Another most common job of a street child is of rag picking, selling newspaper and flowers on traffic signals. They also get engaged in stealing, drug-peddling, extortion and robberies.
They develop a habit of chewing tobacco, drugs and smoking. Apart from this lack of education, poor health, verbal abuse, psychological trauma, sexual exploitation are just to name.
Among all the problems the biggest one is that street children in India are not recognized officially and they have no proof of their age and residence. Even the schools offering free education asks such things before giving admission.
Condition of girl children living a homeless life is even pathetic. They become prey of pimps and then put into prostitution. The Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 revealed that there are more than 3 million sex workers in India and 35.47% enter into this world before the age of 18 years.
How can street children be rehabilitated?
NGOs and few organizations do work to rehabilitate the street children in India. Railway and Chetna, a Delhi-based NGO have joined hand in Jhansi to work for the welfare of these children. There were near about 50 street children living on Jhansi Railway station and 2,500 roaming around it. Railways have agreed to form a committee at each railway station for monitoring these children. They will work to provide shelter for these street children.
‘Pujit Rupani Trust’ in Rajkot city of Gujarat did a wonderful job of displaying diyas and other such items made by street children on sale ahead of Diwali. The money collected will then be used to brighten up the lives of these children. The children who are deprived of happiness will now have a reason to smile this season.
Many NGOs give sweets and crackers to street children on Diwali.
Rehabilitation of street children is must to overcome this problem and such initiatives are very good because these work at ground level. India should come up with more such initiatives and campaigns so as to give a home and happiness to every child of India. Moreover, parents must work towards the better life and upbringing of their children instead of just giving birth.
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