By Pratishtha Arora:
We see, read and live with things in our reality that routinely make us go, “Thank God it is not my child!”
The situation of the majority of India’s street children is self-evident. The reality that they live in, is a naked and vicious one of poverty, sickness and exploitation. The tragedy is that those who bear this reality are innocent, lonely and frightened young children. For their own survival and that of their families, these children engage in precarious activities.
“They fill the railway stations, the cities, the shanty villages. Some scrounge through trash for newspapers, rags or anything they can sell at traffic intersections. Others, often young as two or three years old, beg. Many are homeless, not finding a place at the orphanages and other institutional homes, and thus living on the streets,” says Shelley Seale, author of “Weight of Silence: The Invisible Children of India”. Some are even hired by store or factory owners at cheap rates and made to do double the work. This is leading to these children being abused and violated in their most crucial phase of development, not even getting minimal care and protection.
Undoubtedly, the emergence of street children in urban centres has become a great concern all over the world and extensive studies have been conducted. Still, it leaves us with some questions that are yet to be answered.
Street children have always been one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, with their identities often inextricably linked to their occupations. Most significantly, they are targeted for indulging in ‘detrimental’ activities. The reason why they are categorised as ‘street children’ today is because this group has been unable to get even the minimal amount of care and support from responsible authorities for basic necessities, such as food, shelter and clothing. It is the need of the hour to pay attention to street children so that they can at least obtain this basic assistance.
Some questions arise which need to be unpacked in order to protect these marginalised groups. Who takes the responsibility to protect them under the universally declared rights and principles? And how does the state ensure the safety of these marginalised groups? Are these children even eligible to access these universally declared rights? Are these rights gender neutral? Are there any special provisions for the safety of girl children on the streets?
It is necessary to hold the authorities responsible and accountable for eradicating the dilemma of street children through a strategy with a multi-systemic approach.