New Delhi, Dec 10: Fourteen-year-old Gudiya gets up at the crack of dawn and immediately gets on to work. Empty stomach, she walks the capital streets and around dump yards carrying a tent house of a bag on her frail shoulders to pick rags — all for a day’s meal.
She is among the several thousands of street children who go through trash heaps day in and out to collect material that can be recycled.
‘Digging rubbish and filth is fine. What else I can do to earn a living? One of the major problems I face is abuses from men, beggars on streets and even policewallahs,’ says Gudiya.
Her friend Manu, 10, taking a deep drag of beedi, says he had to run away from his home in Bihar to escape his drug-addict father who often ‘used to beat me for silly reasons’.
According to a 2010 survey by Save the Children, an NGO working for children, as many as 51,000 children live on the streets of the national capital.
The figure comprises of ‘street-working children’ who return home on a regular basis, ‘street-living children’ who live on the streets but not with their families, and children who live on the streets with their families.
These children can be easily spotted at every bend and corner of capital streets, especially in Okhla, Rangpuri Pahari in south Delhi, Tughlaqabad in central Delhi, and Bhalswa Dairy and Jahangirpuri areas in north Delhi.
‘Children who live alone on streets are vulnerable to exploitation and face abuses, be it sexual or verbal. Several of them later in their life become addicted to drugs and turn into criminals,’ Surinder Sharma, a counsellor, said.
Speaking to IANS, Sanjay Gupta, director of NGO Chetna, said: ‘In Delhi alone, several thousands of children are living on the streets. The police turn a blind eye to the soaring crime against these children. Police, who on many occasions treat these kids as accused, often hesitate to take action to curb crime against them.’
Brushing aside the NGO’s claim, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Protection Unit for Women and Child) Suman Nalwa said: ‘It is totally false. Delhi Police are working with many renowned NGOs and social workers to give care and protection to children living on the streets.’
Ananthapriya Subramanian of Save the Children says it’s high time the government took appropriate and effective measures to rehabilitate the children living and working off streets.
Unfortunately, the Delhi government’s plan to set up around 40 centres for street and working children, under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), still remains a non-starter.
‘The Delhi government thought of coming up with 40 centres to provide shelter, education and other facilities to around 30,000 working children who live off the streets in the city. The project is still pending since we lack financial assistance. We’re waiting for the central government’s aid,’ Labour and Industries Minister Ramakant Goswami told IANS.
However, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DPCR) chairman Amod Kanth said: ‘The funds are lying with the Delhi government, but still there is a delay in implementation of this programme.’
‘Generally, there is a poor regard to child-related projects by the government. Though the labour ministry is keen to support and voluntary organisations are ready to help, nothing is being done. I am not able to understand the real cause for the delay in implementing the project, which benefits thousands of children,’ Kanth added.
The sad part, according to Brinda Viswas, a volunteer working with an NGO, is that these children are made to cough up a major portion of their earnings to gang leaders or lower-rung policemen. ‘On an average, a child earns around Rs.2,000 a month.’
Even as NGOs and policy-makers debate action plans to rehabilitate the street children, thousands like Gudiya and Manu sleep near piles of rags when temperature dips well below 10 degrees Celsius during chilly winter nights.
(Pratibha Raju can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)