Why Do We Treat Street Children Like Juvenile Delinquents?

Posted by Martin Haus in #TheInvisibles, Child Rights, Society
August 4, 2017
STC logoEditor’s Note: With #TheInvisibles, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save the Children India have joined hands to advocate for the rights of children in street situations in India. Share your stories of what you learned while interacting with street children, what authorities can do to ensure their rights are met, and how we can together fight child labour. Add a post today!

The sun slowly sets over the slum Jahangir Puri, a border area of the Indian capital Delhi. The main road is crowded at that time of the day, the liquid store has opened. In raddled and dirty clothes, those for whom the post-IMF-development had nothing left are stocking up for the night.

Illegal drugs have served their time for long in the Asian ghettos. Buprenorphine, Diazepam and Avil are some of the medicines sold at the black market for less than USD 1. With them, you can knock yourself out, at least for a few hours- in the medium term, kill. Away from the world in which every single day is an unbearable struggle, in which the relentless rigidity of the modern, global capitalistic system with its full momentum makes the lives of millions of people intolerable!

A few children are running along the road with bursars in their hands — they are hunting the open sewer tunnels together with armies of rats for utilisable garbage. One boy is maybe eight, another one is perhaps 11 years old. One immediately realizes that the Right to Education is nothing more than a phrase. In the vote banks of the slums, the capitalistic system shows its real face- that of brutalization and misery.

For representation only.

Jahangir Puri is one of the last metro stations on the yellow line of the Delhi metro. If you want to get deeper into the slum, you have to change to rickshaws. After crossing the Outer-Ring-Road you get to Bhalwsa, an apocalyptic place. Here is one of the waste dumps of the megacity Delhi. The vultures are gyrating over the mountain which has grown into a mere illimitable height. A small road leads to it. The water clusters on it — water comprising the toxins of the rubbish around it and through which the children are running without any preservation. Water, that, if it rains, goes right into the huts of the local residents. Water that makes the children ill much too often.

Most people here came from nearby villages looking for some income or are refugees from Bangladesh. They don’t have rights. They can’t read and write and are now trying to generate their income from scavenging. The Indian society is ignoring them, they don’t fit into the picture of modern, shining India. These poltergeists are disturbing the picture of the aspiring economical force, the picture of the colourful India which is loved so much by tourists.

Past the road, you finally get to JJ Colony, a slum which evolved near the waste dump. If the water tanker of the JAL board comes, immediately a knot of people forms around it — water is precious and scarce at this place. Listening to the stories of the local people, you hear stories not fitting into the picture of the developing India. Stories of children having to leave school for working to support their family, of women who got married against their will, of thuggish men and children from whom every chance has been taken, of violence, poverty and drugs- they’re all talked about as fables. As night falls, you leave the apocalypse and the people living in it behind you.

We are now about to vote for a new government. But we should vote for those children to get a chance. We must invest in our governmental schools. We have to pay attention to the children living on the streets instead of condemning them as delinquent juveniles. We need to focus on the unbearable situation in our children’s homes and other institutionalised homes where no care is given to children, and to which our government is paying a ridiculously paltry fund.

We must not accept the huge diversity in this country when it comes to opportunities and education. The children of the street are intelligent and talented. They are quick learners. They just need the right push and ample opportunities. The need of the hour is for the government to invest in new and innovative educational programs. Evening schools for street children, SOS children’s villages, subsidies for families in need, etc are only some of them. The school drop-out rate has to decrease. There should be motivated teachers in schools. Government schools should have clean and separate toilers, accessible water and healthy food. We need to stand up for our children’s rights.

As Mahatma Gandhi also said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.

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