Gauri like many others of her age is compelled to beg on the streets of Connaught place in Delhi. In tattered clothes, dirt smeared face, she runs to every car at the signal begging for money. On a good day she earns around Rs 50 to buy one-time meal. Children like Gauri are seen across cities in India. They migrate from rural areas with their parents or tricked into the hands of traffickers for a job opportunity and end up living on the streets under flyovers, roadside and railway platforms. According to a survey conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013, there are an estimated 70,000 children living on the streets of Delhi itself.
Children like Gauri live in abject poverty and on a daily basis, they are compelled to do menial jobs like rag-picking, work at eateries, tea-stalls and beg at traffic-signals. Quite often, the kids are mistreated and exploited by the employers. Long hours of work with low wages, without proper meals, and inadequate workplace safety are common glimpses. Their battle for survival doesn’t end here. Sexual abuse by strangers and adult street dwellers add to their misery.
Street children are more vulnerable than adults on the streets. Most of them are stunted, malnourished, harassed and live in absolute seclusion. In order to improve the life of these children, the Govt. of India under the Ministry of Women and Child Development has introduced programs such as the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). However, till date, there are no statistics on the number of children living on the streets across India. The last official survey conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development was in 2013. The survey estimated around 1,29,896 street children in India but this data is only from 16 cities. When it comes to the entire country, a census of street children is yet to be undertaken by the Govt. In the absence of updated number of children living on streets, suggesting viable solutions becomes difficult.
We need to understand the matter in all seriousness and form multiple policy interventions and strict monitoring of these policies. Leave aside education, the primary need of these children is food and shelter. In order to fulfill these requirement, a more structured approach is required towards setting up of sufficient numbers of day care centres in all cities with basic services like sanitation, safe drinking water and food to reach out large number of street children. Such centres will fulfill the longing of a home for these children by providing a sense of security.
In order to fulfill their food requirement the Municipal authorities within the cities should provide basic amenities like water and food to children living on streets, pavement or railway platforms. In case of children within the age group of 6 months to 2 years, age appropriate free meals should be given at the nearest Anganwadi centres. Street children in between 3 to 6 years should be enrolled in the Anganwadis to avail mid-day meals without any legal obligations.
Another step is the partnership of Govt. with multiple stakeholders such as NGO or police authority to help these children come out of the life of misery. NGO’s within their capability can assist in tracing the families of the runaway or missing kids and sent them back to their parents. They can act as a middlemen between the Govt and children in procuring their legal identity proof, so that they can assess the Govt sponsored schemes. Creating awareness about the various contact points/ childline points through transmission of information at bus stands, market places and other hot-spot areas for any kid suffering from difficulty can also be done by the NGO.
Police officials are the first respondents with children in street situations. There has to have rigorous sensitization and training of police officials regarding their behaviour and interaction with these children. Whenever a missing child or case against harassment is reported, it becomes the responsibility of the police to look into the matter and provide all necessary assistance like filing the First Information Report (FIR), verification of documents, coordination about court cases in case of offences committed against the child.
The plight of street children has constantly been ignored. Lack of a direct law covering the need of these children is of absolute necessity to uplift these children. Will there ever be a ray of hope? Right now, a normal childhood seems to be a distant dream for many children like Gauri.