Street children in Delhi are a breed unto themselves. They don’t have guiding parents, no income, no monitoring of health, no school to go to, no real home to retire to, yet, they appear to be a happy lot. Because they have no exposure to life beyond begging, for a mere one rupee coin, they are content in their limited world, unknowing of the prospects that lay for privileged people like you and I.
A few months back, I accidentally stumbled upon children as young as seven-year-old, glue-sniffing in a park adjacent to my office. They are a pack of 5-6 children, who remain intoxicated the entire day and commit petty crimes. They are a bold bunch, and on informal investigation, found out that even the cops are scared of their unpredictable, volatile behavior. This was not an isolated spotting. There is thousands of such kind, scattered all over Delhi.
For most, it’s a roofless childhood. There are over 50,000 street children in Delhi, of which 20% are girls. Around 70% are on the street despite having a so-called home in Delhi. Over 50% are illiterate and 87% earn a living – 20% earn as rag-pickers, 15.8% as street vendors, and 15% by begging. Over 50% have suffered verbal, physical or sexual abuse. Fewer than 20% have ID cards or birth certificates, a reason why most of this abandoned lot miss out on Government schemes.
As small as five-year-old kids, boys and girls, with painted moustaches, perform acrobatics and beg for a reward. You can see kids dodging between vehicles to sell their wares, girls, siblings in their arms, seeking alms… these are familiar vignettes at various crossroads in Delhi…
It is heart-rending to see a small child knocking on closed car windows at red lights, pleading for loose change, it’s painful to see the look of despair when no one rolls down windows, when ordinary people ignore their existence, even. They have survived beatings, imprisonment, addiction, abandonment, and ill-health, but what they shouldn’t have to suffer is public apathy, our cold-heartedness.
Several NGOs have been working towards the upliftment of these street kids. They are running educational programmes and providing free meals, they counsel parents to take care of their children, and not abandon them to fend for themselves. Clothes and books are also distributed.
However, the initiatives taken by NGOs are not translating into benefits for the disempowered, not for the want of trying.. There is lack of funds and human resources, but most critically, no Government has taken concrete steps to get them off the streets, and into schools and homes. As an aam aadmi, Delhi chief minister must start multiple schemes and programmes dedicated to strengthening and empowering their existence. They are also India’s future, but we don’t consider them so.
The root causes of poverty are beyond a single NGO’s power to change, not even a bunch of them put together. All of us need to pitch in, to show that they are not alone, and will not have to live this way forever.
Civil society’s contribution can help equip NGOs to care, support and protect neglected street children, in and around New Delhi Railway Station, crowded bus stops, congested business and tourist areas, as well as slums.