Monday, September 27, 2004

Street Children

by N.S.Manihara
SKCV Children's Trust

What is the definition of a street child in India?
The reality of the street child is the naked and vicious face of poverty, sickness and exploitation. The tragedy is, that those who bear it are themselves innocent, lonely and frightened young children.

Street Children are those unfortunate children who basically:

Have only intermittent contact with parents or family (usually mother or sisters) but live most of the time with other street children in the city streets, or are on the move. {There are numerous reasons for a child to leave home}

Have been literally abandoned by their parents/relatives, found themselves on the street from the beginning because of family problems, or have chosen to leave home due to some kind of constant abuse.

Those who have run away from home can further be separated into two categories:

  1. Those who have an unpleasant or traumatic home environment.They experience family problems they are unable to solve: i.e., alcoholism, child abuse, ill treatment by stepparents, unemployment and poverty. Their tolerance level has been far exceeded, leading to the drastic decision to leave their family.
  2. Those who have run away from home, who wanted to study/work but were not allowed and came to experience the exciting experiences of city life, glamourised by magazines and movies.

Religion of street children in India varies greatly according to area.
70% are Hindu,
18% are Muslim, Christian and other.
Percentage of Hindu children is as high as 82% in Hyderabad, Indore & Bangalore. (Almost 50% of Hindu children belong to scheduled caste or tribes.)
82.7% of street children are boys. Girls are more difficult to trace but they are, by far, the most vulnerable.

Most street children find themselves some work, even though they may not be steady and lose jobs regularly. Many think of rag picking as a "job". A study in 1989 shows that 39.3% working children are paid inadequately, and 34% complain of being forced to overwork. Many children are lured into bonded work or "work-camps" that they are unable to escape from, due to unscrupulous and cruel proprietors or middlemen.

A recent study in Madras shows that many street children (45.6%) would like to live in a secure place, while 71% are very eager to change their present life. 63% of children have an ambition to do something meaningful in their future. The vast majority of them have a survival instinct and the tenacity that helps them survive the day to day trials of street life. That does not, however, provide them a future

The average age of street children is:
33% 6-10yrs
40% 11-15yrs
27% 16yrs +

The health condition of street children is generally poor. Many suffer from chronic diseases like TB, leprosy, typhoid, malaria, jaundice and liver/kidney disorders. Venereal disease is rampant among older ones (14yrs+). Scabies, gangrene, broken limbs and epilepsy are common. HIV & AIDS cases are now widely seen. Most street children are exposed to dirt, smoke and other environmental hazards. They are constantly exposed to intense sun, rain and cold.
Though there are supposed to be "free" Government / Municipal Hospitals in all cities, street children do not have easy access to them due the need to pay bribes to enter, or the indifferent or hostile treatment meted out to them by the staff. Bangalore, Vijayawada and Hyderabad report extreme conditions in this regard.

Street children learn to cope with life on the streets very quickly. They learn to live off the street. The following is a list of activities and occupations undertaken by street children in India to earn a living:

Collecting and selling waste paper, plastic, scrap metal etc.
Cleaning cars and two-wheelers,
Selling water, sweets, biscuits, clothes etc.
Selling newspapers and flowers on streets
Making and selling flower garlandsBegging, pimping, pick pocketing, stealing
Working in roadside stalls or repair shops
Coolie work or working in small hotels (kitchens etc)

We know that children should enjoy:
The Right to survival
The Right to education
The Right to good health
The Right to free expression
The Right to be heard
The Right to enjoy their own language …

and, indeed, many other rights, but apart from the obvious Rights of the Convention, the most prominent problem that street children experience arises from the law-makers and implementers, and the child’s lack of identity.

What are your thoughts? Or are you going to ignore just like the majority of us?


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