Sanjay Patil, 23, wanted to learn animation. But after he enquired about the procedure to get into a college offering animation courses, he realised that his dream may not become a reality.
Reason: Patil has neither a birth certificate, proof of residence nor a photo identity proof for admission to the college because he was raised in a shelter home.
Patil is not alone. There are around 4,000 children, of which 500 children are between 14 and 18 years of age, living in the city's 40 shelter homes, whose future may be at stake.
"I had dropped out of school to work. Now, I was planning to give my class 10 exams, but even if I do pass, I cannot study animation because I do not have any documents that are required for securing admission," said Patil, who lived at the Bandra East Community Centre until he turned 18. He is originally from Nagpur.
Shelter homes house children who are found abandoned or are runaways. Child rights activists and NGOs lament that there are no provisions in place for such youngsters to help them get identity proofs such as birth certificates or ration cards.
"As these youngsters do not have documents to prove their identity, they face problems while getting a mobile phone connection, applying for a job or for further studies or even for a passport. They often have limited access to job opportunities and end up working in unorganised sectors. It is a vicious cycle that does not allow them to improve their lot," said Aarti Joshi, an activist with the NGO Balprafulta, which works for child rights. She has worked on a project called Talaash to help runaway children.
Her colleague Joseph Pinto added: "After a child turns 18, he or she has to move out of the shelter home. They then face problems in the outside world because they do not have any documents to prove their identity."
Kishore Bhamre, assistant director at Pratham, an NGO that works towards providing education to underprivileged children, said: "There was a government resolution a few years ago for a provision called Jeevanpeti, which ensured that when a child leaves a shelter home he gets everything from a character certificate to other documents. However, it is not implemented well."
Two years ago, the Don Bosco Research Centre had initiated a project called Connect All India to help youngsters from shelter homes to get identity proofs.
"We arrange for PAN cards for children who have moved out of shelters homes. We also have tied up with a bank to open zero balance account for these youngsters and we stand as guarantors. We want these youngsters to least have proof that they are citizens of the country," said Mayuri Rajbaruah, coordinator (financial and social inclusion) of Connect All India.
But Joseph believes that these documents may not be useful at most places, such as while getting a no-objection certificate from the police who demand at least three basic identity proofs.
Santosh Shinde, a member of the Children Welfare Committee, said: "Around 99% of these children who leave shelter homes do not have basic identity proof that is a big disadvantage for them as far as their future in concerned."
When asked who is at fault, Shinde replied: "Both are responsible. The shelter homes should help the children get basic identity proofs and the government should make suitable provisions the paperwork."
Lakhi Pradhan, 27, unemployed
Lakhi Pradhan has had some forgettable experiences when it comes to earning a livelihood.
"At one place, I worked for three months and they refused to pay me after that. When I approached the police, they did not entertain me saying I did not even have paperwork to prove my identity," Pradhan said.
"Being a shelter boy is a huge disadvantage. People find it difficult to trust us. Even when I was working with a courier company, they would pay me less as they said I did not have any identity proof and they were employing me despite that."
Lakhi, who is originally from Orissa, came to the city after facing domestic violence at home.
He was with the Don Bosco Shelter Home at Wadala before moving out to find employment.
He could not clear Class 10. Asked why he did not continue studying, he said: "Finding a job that would help me meet my day-to-day expenses was the main focus."
Lakhi is, however, excited about the free English teaching workshop at the Don Bosco Shelter Home this month. "Even if I get a job that clashes with the course timings, I will ensure I do not miss the class."
Mangesh Sathe, 19, has Bollywood aspirations
Mangesh Sathe, a Mumbaiite, has big Bollywood dreams.
"I know I will have to do some film making course to get into the industry, for which I need money. I tried applying to a few call centres and got through but they would not employ me for lack of identity proof," the 19-year-old said.
"But, I realised that even if I collect the money for the course, I would not be permitted as I do not have documentation. This is not fair, we suffer for something not of our making," he added.
Mangesh left home after differences with his parents and currently works long hours at a grocery store in Wadala.
He lives with three former residents of shelter homes at a rented tenement at Dockyard Road.
Based on the current not-so-pleasant experiences that he has been through, the 19-year-old who was with the Don Bosco Shelter Home till 2009 said, "In future we will have no opportunities. Even the SIM card I use in my mobile phone is in the name of a friend as they will not give us a connection without documents. In many ways, this lack of documentation has left us helpless as far as realising our dreams is concerned."