By Dia Mirza:
The little children in street situations now have a reason to rejoice, so do citizens who despite their good intentions feel unsure about collaborating with the government. Commonly called ‘street children’, more than 20 lakh Indian children live without access to safe care, nutrition, health and education. To me, they are like the little flowers by the roads who survive despite our collective indifference. But a few days ago, I was invited to Delhi to become a part of a partnership between the government, NGOs and citizens that will change the lives of children who are forced to live on the street.
For the very first time, India now has a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Care and Protection of children in street situations. The purpose of the SOP is to identify processes that should be set in motion once a child on the street has been identified as a child in need. These processes would be within the existing framework of rules and policies and would create a convergence of the various agencies. This is a set of guidelines that define the roles and responsibilities of for all the stakeholders for care, protection and rehabilitation of these children in a manner so simple that even a child can understand it.
In fact, as I realised on my trip to Delhi yet again, sometimes children do understand better and learn faster than us. While on a visit to a government school bursting with energetic children, many of who live in street situations, I was taught how to wash my hands even better than my parents did! This effort to ensure good hygiene practices is part of a drive by Save the Children to make schools safe places where children also learn essential life skills. To try and return the gesture of those lovely children I thought of teaching them the ‘jungle clap’, the importance of which they grasped sooner than many adults in my experience.
Coming back to the SOP, for the first time, they tell us, you and me, and the different government agencies how to help street children. Children in street situations are a remarkable example of the visible who are invisible as they are in front of us all the time- none of us pass a day without coming across a child on the street. They face constant physical, mental and sexual abuse, many of them survive on discarded food and hardly have enough clothes to cover their bodies. And it is also true that many of us, cannot even look them in the eye because of guilt, and sadness. They often don’t even have a proof of their identity and when a calamity strikes and if we lose them, then depressingly, they are not even a statistic.
All this is set to change when the SOP will be implemented in letter and spirit by both the government agencies and we the people. The SOP calls for issuing of Aadhar cards, health insurance and bank accounts. It seeks to end the culture of working in various silos in the government and most of all, seeks to empower us as citizens to speak out and stand up for the rights of children on the street.
Launching the SOP along with the Minister of Women and Child Development Ms Maneka Gandhi, Ms Stuti Kacker of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and my friends from Save the Children was a big celebration for me.
In my capacity as an artist and communicator, I have been striving to create awareness about issues close to my heart, and children are most special to me. When I see them smile, play, dance despite so much adversity I am humbled, filled with gratitude, it reminds me what it means to be a human being. It also breaks my heart to see lakhs of them suffering, living in abusive and risky environments, but at the same time, I am overwhelmed by their resilience.
I have resolved to keep working for our children and I am pleased to say that our minister Ms Maneka Gandhi is the right person to ensure that this SOP is implemented across the country. We as citizens have a responsibility to help the government in this effort by spreading word about the issues of children in street situations. We need to ensure dignity, access to health and education for these children and it is possible by creating awareness, and engaging with issues. Change will follow. I hope you will join me in true earnest in celebrating this great beginning towards improving the lives of ‘street children’.
Dia Mirza is an Actor, Filmmaker, Humanitarian and one of the loudest champions of Nature Conservation in the country. She is also Save The Children’s first Indian Artist Ambassador.