Gaurav (13) is an unusually pensive teenager. He weighs every word before he speaks, almost fearful of reprisal. At his age, he knows how to cope with loss — his parents died and his elder brother abandoned him and their younger brother Sumit — and to earn a living.
The two boys work in a local sweatshop in East Delhi’s Harsh Vihar and earn Rs 1,000 per month.
“We manage fine,” said Gaurav when asked if he felt lonely. They live in a one-room brick house without any water or power.
A survey carried out by the Delhi government for identifying socially and financially vulnerable groups found that there are over 5,400 such families headed by children in the city. And these were just the results of the first phase of the survey.
Many of these children are orphans, while others were abandoned parents. Usha (17) was sold by her parents to an old man.
When she managed to escape and return to her home in Sunder Nagri, an unauthorised colony in east Delhi, her parents abandoned her and her five siblings and disappeared overnight.
Usha and her siblings lived alone for a while in the shack their parents owned. While the other children were eventually taken in by their relatives, she was left behind. The teenager now works as a cook with St Stephen’s Hospital’s Community Outreach Programme in Sunder Nagri.
“We have arranged for her stay in the neighbourhood. Her shack is rented to us. We run a Balwadi (a centre for pre-school children) there. The rent is deposited in Usha’s name in the bank,” said Akhilesh Singh, an educator at the St Stephen’s Hospital Community Dispensary, which doubles up as a resource centre for the area’s underprivileged.
Rashmi Singh, mission director of the project management unit that spearheads the Mission Convergence Programme, said the survey was carried out in 5.6 lakh households in Delhi’s slums, resettlement colonies and colonies where the poor live.
“We have identified 1.4 lakh households as most vulnerable, while another 2.5 lakh have been identified as occupationally vulnerable,” said Singh.
The next challenge is to make benefits available to children like Gaurav and Sumit. Both the boys have never been to school and have no idea how to get a bank account or a ration card.
“I am trying to get a pehchaan patra (a voters’ identity card),” said Gaurav, not realising that he was not eligible to get one.
NGO activists said there were still many obstacles. Bureaucratic redtapism is one of them.
“The government will have to be accessible in order to make a change,” said an activist.