The number of street children in Delhi has always been a debatable topic. The exact number of street children cannot be identified because of huge influx of migrating population in Delhi and also because of its floating population. People from other states migrate to Delhi looking for jobs, education for their children and better life facilities, on the other hand people with family migrate from one locality to another within Delhi because of loop-sided development of Delhi, where one pocket of Delhi is extremely poor and the other pocket is enormously wealthy. People need to move within Delhi to fend their daily needs and the needs of their children.
Over 70,000 children across the national capital. were identified to be in ‘street situation’ by the Delhi Commission for Protection for Child Rights (DCPCR). An enormous task of identifying street children, all over India has been undertaken by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and during the continuing process NCPCR has reported, ‘Only 1,800 children have been brought into the process, while two years back, we were told that 73,000 children were living on Delhi streets. Save the Children in a study conducted in the year 2010, on the status of street children in Delhi has found that there were around 51,000 street children in Delhi, 20% among them are girls; Dalits represent 36% and Adivasis 17%; 70% of such children fend for themselves on the street despite having a home in Delhi; 50.5% are illiterate; 87% earn a living (20% as ragpickers, 15.8% as street vendors, 15% by way of begging), Keeping in view the statistics provided by Save the Children and also the trend of influx of migrating population in Delhi we can very safely estimate the number to be somewhere between 1,25,000-1,50,000.
Street children, can be broadly divided into four categories,
- abandoned or orphaned;
- missing or runaway children;
- street connected/community children on the street; and
- children begging on the streets.
These children can further be categorised as,
- children who remain on the street for the most of the time on street and go back to their family during night hours,
- and the other group of such children consist of children who spend the whole day and night on the street.
Though both groups are highly vulnerable but children who spend day and night are more vulnerable. Street children are more prone to trafficking, organ trade, sexual abuse, child labour, children into begging, child in conflict with law and what not. They lead insecure life, without parenting, least to say about their life with dignity, development, protection and not to talk of participation, the four basic rights of children. Street child with disability needs special mention as the child belongs to the most vulnerable category.
On the basis of my experience of about two decades in the field of child rights including that of Member, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, I am of the firm opinion that a street children portray a gloomy picture of extreme deprivation, discrimination and exploitation and as such they require immediate and effective interventions to ameliorate their conditions. Issues related to these children need to be dealt with rights-based approach and not on the basis of compassion-based approach, which is being largely followed at present. A multi-pronged approach needs to be developed to provide conducive eco-system of safety, development and dignity to these children. There is no magic wand to deal with the situation of street children, we need to have street children’s specific policies in place with long time perseverance. A street child is not a part of number game but they are picture of injustice, inequality and discrimination. Street children are a challenge to any, ‘Welfare State’ and loss of every-day amounts to more deprivation and exploitation of these children.
Rehabilitation of street children of Delhi is an enormous task; no civil society organisation can successfully undertake it without proper support of the government and society at large. I feel that the government is aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the problem, but we need to have collective political will to address this problem.
Awareness and sensitivity in the society with respect to the threatened life situations of these children shall be created without any further delay, we need to know that these children are vulnerable to substance abuse and are also prone to involve in other types of criminal activities.
It will be relevant to make a reference of the video project undertaken by Action Aid in the name and style ‘Ibn Battuta ka Joota’ wherein it has been very aptly shown that these children have the ambition and beautiful dreams for their future. I strongly feel that we shall create strong mechanism to see to it that their dreams do not die before they actually take shape and also to provide them with conducive environment for taking initial small steps for realising their dreams. In this process the government, the society and the corporates can play very important role.
The objective of my organisation CRACR And PD is also the same, as expressed above and is articulated in the words of Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq:
phool to do din bahār-e-jāñ-fazā dikhlā gae
hasrat un ġhunchoñ pe hai jo bin khile murjhā gae
I propose the following steps for improvement of the status of street children in Delhi and in India at large:
- Providing identification documents including Aadhar Card to such children
- Creating safe spaces like 24 hours drop-in centre for such children in adequate number
- Keeping an eye on such children in the border districts of Delhi
- Inculcating sponsorship from society for such children
- Police officials to be trained to deal affectionately with such children
- DCPUs to effectively undertake the task of mapping of vulnerable children including street Children
- DMs or their authorised representatives shall see that such children are beneficiaries of government schemes
- RTE shall be more effectively implemented with the help of NGOs
- Every cluster consisting of migrated population need to have at least one safe space for children with various facilities like informal education, vocational training, extracurricular activities etc,
- Special emphasis on mental health of such children and their dreams
- Cluster Resource Centre for such children with special need/s and many such steps can be suggested.