As someone who has lived in Kolkata and frequently passed through Howrah, I have often seen street children living on the tracks there, before. But watching VICE’s documentary on this made me realise that I had no idea of the horrors of their lives.
Street children in India are a mostly invisible community, with a vast majority living without any official proof of identification, which basically makes them ‘non-existent’ in the government’s eyes. Thus, not only do street children miss out on governmental schemes, they also become easy targets for exploitation. For example, the children who live on the railway tracks in Howrah help clear up train carriages, but are treated as unwelcome and unwanted. Lack of education and forced labour destroys both their childhood and their future.
Another horrifying truth that the documentary highlights is how exposed street children are to health hazards, especially through drug and substance abuse. This isn’t something which is limited to Kolkata only – street children across the country often use substances such as industrial glue to get high.
And once past a certain age, many of the children end up in jail and emerge as hardened individuals. On the streets, they faced police brutality – and once they are older, they get trapped by the very system that is supposed to protect them.
India has the highest number of young people in the world – over 350 million. And we’re letting many of these voices fall silent in their childhoods. Every last child is important. We must do better.