This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abhishek Jha. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

While Govt. Snores, How Millions Of Indian Street Children Have No Place To Sleep

More from Abhishek Jha

NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

With the sun perched firmly above his head, 10-year-old Shahjahan* is busy scrounging for bottles and plastic on the top of the several metres high Ghazipur landfill site. He goes to school, he says, but is here because it is a holiday.

This monstrosity of a garbage dump, that gets 2,200 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, is dangerous to say the least. Apart from the site’s unstable physical form, the garbage generates methane, and there are resulting fires. Clearly, this is no place for a child.

So, I ask Jahan if he’s afraid to come to the landfill. “Yes, I feel scared. I feel scared of ghosts, of machines, of vehicles,” he says. He says he also feels scared of the eagles that fly low and in hundreds over the garbage. “They attack with their claws. They have done it several times. So now I just keep away from them when I am scrounging,” he tells me.

Children at the Ghazipur landfill site (Photo: Abhishek Jha)

Sunil* is 18, but has been working as a ragpicker at the landfill for four years now. Hailing from a village near Nandigram, West Bengal, he studied until class five, while working in the fields. He left school since the family didn’t have enough money to feed everybody. “Those were days that I cannot even think about. There was a lot of tension at home,” he says. The money he earns from picking rags has solved those problems to some extent, with his younger brother now being able to study at home, without working. “I told him, ‘Brother, you should study. Let me go but you should study.’ At least one person in the family should get educated, right?”, he says.  Sunil’s future, however, remains bleak at best.

Shahjahan and Sunil are not the only children who live like this. Theirs is the story of millions of Indian children who are forced to live in hazardous conditions on India’s streets by the compulsion of poverty and hunger. This, despite the fact that India, along with 192 UN member states had committed to achieve sustainable development by 2030, that entitles every child  to a decent living standard. If street children don’t even get their basic rights related to nutrition, education and sanitation, India will definitely fall behind in the global race for sustainable development.

“Living on nearly a quarter of Delhi’s solid waste, [these children] don’t have toilets of their own.”

At the Ghazipur landfill, the situation is particularly dire. Living in makeshift shanties metres away from the landfill, children here work either as ragpickers, or in nearby markets to provide for their family’s daily expenses. Ironically, living on nearly a quarter of Delhi’s solid waste, they don’t have toilets of their own.

In another part of Delhi, at Connaught Place, the same dire necessity is keeping 16-year-old Anil* at work. He sells balloons and inflated plastic toys. He says he has been working for as long as he can remember. The 300 or 400 rupees that he earns, he gives to his parents, who sometimes buy him clothes or cook him food with the money. But they still don’t make enough to get off the pavements of the Hanuman Temple. He says he studied until the class 6 in a school run by NDMC, until authorities took away his books and uniform. “We live here on the pavements. So they told us, ‘You don’t stay here. Move out to someplace else.'”

Indian street children sleeping on the pavement in Delhi (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

11-year-old Jaya*, who sells balloons at the intersection near the IIT flyover, fortunately goes to school. But she also works, helping out her father in the evening. Her father told me that the 50-100 rupees she earns, helps him buy her breakfast. When the work is done, they sleep in the temporary night shelter built under the flyover.

For 13-year-old Chetan*, who lives at a shelter home in Kashmere Gate, the high of ‘solution’ – a cheap inhalant drug – was providing an escape from the harshness of life, until the shelter’s outreach worker found him.

He earned ₹350 for installing a tent and ₹700 for dismantling it. In a month, he contributed around ₹8,000 to his family’s income. His mother died of dengue during the Kaanwar season last year and he is the only one apart from his father, a daily wager, who earns for the family, which consists of him, his father, and his sister. The sister is too young, he says, and she just “runs around”.

Ideally – street children, meaning children who either live or work on the street – should be beneficiaries of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act but out in the real world, the reality of their lives is diametrically opposite to that envisioned in the schemes. No issue – whether it’s hunger or health, provision of safe drinking water or quality education – that India promised to work on as part of its Sustainable Development Goals – has been taken up by the government seriously as far as street children are concerned. The sad state of affairs is reflected in the fact that currently the government doesn’t even have an official estimate of the number of children living on streets.

In the absence of strong action from the government, we continue to have the largest number of child labourers in the world, according to UNICEF. Over 59 million children continue to have no access to school, with an estimated 3,000 children dying in India every year due to malnutrition.

Street children in Delhi’s monsoons (Photo: Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Work on SDGs like ‘No Poverty’, ‘Ending Hunger’ and ‘Ensuring Healthy Lives’ – that every government should be working on anyway, needs to be outlined clearly and then implemented through effective policy making. Formulation of a strong framework to approach basic Sustainable Development Goals, is in fact, the only solution to bring about change.

“The government runs on data. Unfortunately, in the case of street children there is no data. When there is no data, there is no corresponding scheme,” says Sanjay Gupta, a social activist and Director of Chetna, an NGO that works for street children.

The system, Gupta adds, isn’t particularly sensitive to the children either. “If I am a caregiver, an NGO, police personnel, the CWC, then the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Yaar, he is only working somewhere, right? He is not hungry or poor, is he? Okay, how much do you earn? 300? 300 is good money, right?'”

“These children have no say in what the government decides for them.”

“So, this is a mindset which goes against the street child and these are the people who have all the authority to link this child to all the schemes,” he said. That these children have no say in what the government decides for them is another problem, Gupta adds.

Gupta is now working on a pilot project which will involve a committee of all authorities, which interact with the children and will work at the traffic intersections in South Delhi. But he thinks real work can only happen if the government works on a sustainable model for these children, at least formulating policies that ensure basic rights every child should get – quality education, adequate nutrition and safe working conditions – goals India promised to fulfil when it became a SDG signatory. “If the NGOs propose a role model, then they (the government) don’t buy it. The real work will be the government itself forms a model. Then you will see how fast things will function,” Gupta concluded.

Stating that “much of India’s development agenda is mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals“, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had endorsed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations General Assembly. Clearly, when we talk about street children,  goals like ‘No Poverty’, ‘Zero Hunger’, ‘Good Health and Well Being’, ‘Quality Education’, and ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’ have been hardly addressed . For the longest time, the government has ignored the needs of its children. It is high time that it delivers on its promises and works towards effective implementation of the SDGs. It is, after all, the country’s children that hold the key to its future.

*Names changed to protect identities.

You must be to comment.

More from Abhishek Jha

Similar Posts

By neetibiyani

By Twishaa Tandon

By Kalai Selvi

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below