WHY ON THE STREET?
If you travel around Mumbai (India), one of the things you will notice is children in ragged clothes: working, begging and roaming the roads. No country has more street children than India. At least 18 million children and young people live outside. You may ask: ‘Why do children live on the street? Have they no options?’ Here are some of the reasons why children live on the road.
Death of parents. We call children whose parents have died ‘orphans‘. Children’s parents may die from an accidents, from addictions, or from Hiv or other viruses. In Britain and in other countries, we have a good system of social security, but India there is not yet enough money for that. Some orphans end up being homeless.
Forced Begging. Some parents or relatives in the slums make their children beg for them. Maybe the parent has a disease, a handicap or an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Children are more successful with begging than adults.
Homelessness. Many times, the parents of street children are homeless themselves. In Mumbai alone, over half a million people sleep on the street every night.
Poverty. Sometimes there simply is no food. And no money. When mom and dad are also away much of the time, a child may say ‘let me try to make some money so I can eat tonight’. In this way, 10 year old children end up living on the road.
Domestic Violence. When a family member is beaten or mistreated, we call this ‘Domestic violence’; violence in the home. The parent might be depressed, troubled, or even mentally ill. Many children in today’s world run away from angry and abusive parents.
A house move (migration). Many families in India move from poor villages to cities like Mumbai or Delhi, with dreams of a good job and a better life. They reach the city without much money or a place to stay. Very soon they live on the road or in a poor slum with just an iron sheet for cover. The children soon have to work in order to survive.
Trying to get food is a major concern for street children. Much of their time is spent in finding ways to get their next meal. In order to get food, they need to work and do whatever is available to them. Some people and organisations help street children by handing out free food. In the city centres, children might find a free breakfast from a charity.
FULL TIME JOBS FOR EIGHT-YEAR OLDS!
Kids on the street have to be creative to earn their bread.
Here are some of the jobs they do:
Cleaning and washing cars (and asking for a tip from the owners; 5 rupees or 8 pence).
Collecting plastic bottles or scrap metal. The children sell these items to vendors for a few rupees (10 rupees or 12 pence for a big bag; ).
Brushing shoes (for 3 rupees; 4 pence).
Begging. There are many ways to beg. Knocking on car windows and sitting by the roadside are a just some of the options.
Many children also get jobs in hotels as cleaners. Other get involved in crime (picking pockets, stealing food), or in sex for money. It’s not easy to survive on the road.
I NEED A BED!
Finding a safe place to spend the night is very important. In the night, street children are often bothered and beaten by police or older street youth.
These are some of the sleeping spots that street kids find:
-Bus stalls. These are empty until 6am. Bus stops give a little bit of protection when it rains.
-Drainage pipes. Unused open drainage pipes can be good cover.
-Empty train compartments. Dry, and almost like a small room.
-Station roofs. Many of the train platforms have roofs made of thick plastic.
-Shop fronts. Just like bus stations, shop fronts are better than pavements. At least nobody will step on you.
-Parks. Most parks are closed till 10am, but street kids always find a way to climb in. Watch out for the guards!!
-Pavement. If all else fails, there’s always the pavement.
-Street children often sleep in groups in order to feel stronger when dealing with policemen or guards. Many times street kids pay them a bribe of a few rupees to get a few hours of rest.
Most street kids suffer from some health problem due to their unhygienic lifestyle. They are not able to have daily baths, and their clothes get dirty. They walk barefoot and eat out of from garbage dumps. They also do not have access to proper medical care. As a result, street children are prone to various diseases and infections.
LIFE WITHOUT DIPLOMAS
While street kids are open to studying, some find it difficult to adjust to the discipline and routine of school. Moreover, the school timings clash with work timings. As a result, most kids drop out of school or never even start attending. The majority of street children are illiterate; they can hardly read or write.
VIOLENCE AND PRISON.
How can a street child protect him/herself? It’s difficult. Most street children complain of beatings from Police officers and senior street youth.
Many times, street kids get accused of crimes just because they were near a crime scene. They are an easy target and not many people will defend them. In this way, a number of street children end up in remand homes. Remand homes are youth prisons. A child can be picked up and put in a remand home just because they happen to be present in a location like a station, or because they were seen begging.
A number of organisations and brave citizens help street children by providing care, help and education. These efforts from charities and ordinary citizens help to change the lives of street children for the better.