Tahir runs around with his friends and appears to be a happy kid. But a shadow clouds his face when he is asked about his family. The 10-year-old ran away from home two years ago because of constant physical abuse by a violent father.
Tahir, who lives in a shelter home run by NGO Butterflies, may have found a place where he feels safe but there are many others like him, who have to face abuse on Delhi streets. A survey involving street children, conducted by Save the Children and the Institute of Human Development (IHD), has revealed that most children who live or work on streets are subjected to abuse on a regular basis. There are almost 51,000 street children in the city. They either work on the streets or live there.
Abused by the police, unsafe at home
The most common perpetrators of this violence are the police and relatives of these street children, the survey says. "For the children, being verbally abused is a way of life. Physical abuse in the form of beating by the police is very common," said Reshmi Bhaskaran, IHD.
But the police justify this abuse. "A majority of street children are juveniles in conflict with the law. In many cases, where gangs of such juveniles are involved, using physical force becomes imperative, not only to deter them from committing crimes but also to maintain law and order," said a senior Delhi Police officer, requesting anonymity.
Amod Kanth, director, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights feels that the lack of awareness about the Juvenile Justice Act is one of several reasons for this abuse.
"This problem is prevalent in many parts of the country. The understanding of the Act among police officials is only around 25%," he said.
Another statistic that shows that girls are unsafe even at home is that of physical abuse by relatives or friends. Almost 63% girls on the streets have reported cases of physical abuse - including molestation and rape - at the hands of relatives and friends. Of these, the most vulnerable are in the age group of 10-14 years.
Toilet use is priority
The survey has also busted the popular belief that street children defecate in the open and do not use toilets. As many as 87% children pay for the use of toilets. Girls, especially, are scared of relieving themselves in the open.
Many girls, in fact, work after school or beg to pay for the use of toilets, to get drinking water and buy sanitary napkins, the report says.