Tales of sexual harassment, discrimination, forced labour and corporal punishment poured out on Wednesday as members of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and representatives of Child Welfare Committees addressed a public meeting with street children on the eve of International Street Children Day.
These are stories that if told by children going to top private schools would rattle governments and sicken the society but told by the poorest of the poor, they have become mere narratives of the 'hardship on Delhi streets'.
‘Railway attendant sodomised me’
Sonu (12) comes to Nizamuddin Railway Station every day and sometimes peddles small items on the platform. He is a fearless, confident and charming kid but none of these qualities could save him from being sodomised and molested over and over again by railway attendants in trains. "The railway attendant of the AC coach calls boys and girls to clean the coach and sexually harasses us. I have been a victim and so have many other friends of mine," he said. What is worse in Sonu's case is that police insensitivity seals their fates; making them nothing but victims abused by nameless, faceless culprits.
A broom awaits her at school
Sapna gets ready for school every morning and leaves home reluctantly for it is not books but a broom that awaits her in her government school in Mangolpuri. The 9-year-old is asked to sweep classroom and corridors every morning, as she is from a particular caste. "On days that I can't finish the work, the teacher asks me to stand in a corner and hold my hands up as punishment. She doesn't like teaching me," Sapna said. According to NGO Chetna, that had organised the public meeting, most such cases go unnoticed as students and parents are too scared and also unaware about their rights.
‘They don’t take us for school trips’
When Rani’s (11) parents sent her to school they had thought she would be able to escape all the discrimination and unfairness. Little did they know that their only daughter would be subjected to ridicule every day by teachers and fellow students in the government school in Paschim Vihar. "When the whole class goes for excursions, we, those who live in jhuggis, are left behind. The teachers hit us and scold us even when we have not done anything wrong. Going to school is like a punishment," said Rani. Under the Right to Education Act, such discrimination and corporal punishment is illegal.
Homes or hell for children?
For children who run away from NGO and government-run children's homes, the situation is the worst.
"I lived in two children's homes before I returned to the streets. The older children there hit the younger ones and snatch their money. Also, we are not allowed to go out to earn — which is very important for us. At one home, the warden asked us to defecate in plastic pans instead of toilets. I will never go back," said Mohan, 15.
"We have noted all the complaints and action will soon be taken,” said VK Tickoo, member, NCPCR.
(Names of all children have been changed)