Delhi’s homeless children having tough time in lockdown
Kuldeep Singh, 15, who calls a patch of footpath under a flyover near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium his home, has been dependent on others for his meals since the lockdown.
“Outsiders or NGOs get khichdi for us daily and it causes stomach ache. Due to the curfew, we cannot step out to collect wood and cook our meals or earn a livelihood. There have been times when my family has gone to sleep on an empty stomach,” he says.
Kuldeep is among the thousands of street children in Delhi who are bearing the brunt of the lockdown. Often, neither them nor their families are aware of the government relief measures.
Sanjay Gupta, director of Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA), says, “Many of these children live in inner lanes and bylanes of the city and it has been difficult to reach out to them considering how our movement has also been restricted.”
The non-governmental organisation works for homeless street children.
Last year, a survey conducted by the Delhi Commission for Protection for Child Rights (DCPCR) across the national capital had identified over 70,000 children who were found to be in ‘street situation’. Most, according to the survey, were either found engaged as labourers in factories and stalls or found begging or indulging in substance abuse.
“Even before the lockdown, these children struggled in getting their daily meals and often relied on leftovers found in trains that arrived at Nizamuddin station. Now, with the lockdown, that option no longer exists for them,” says Gupta, adding that the lockdown will lead to behavioural changes in the children, which can only be assessed at later stages.
Social workers and activists are also finding it difficult to contact the street children living near Nizamuddin or Sarai Kale Khan. Nizamuddin has become one of the biggest cluster for Covid-19 in India.
“Local RWAs prevent movement in their area fearing the spread of the virus. Besides, the Nizamuddin issue has made them more cautious. So far, we haven’t been able to establish a connection with these children ,” says Gupta. Though the government has converted over 500 schools into hunger relief centres, the street children are yet to benefit from them.
Indu Prakash, member of the Supreme Court-appointed state-level shelter monitoring committee and a member of the advisory panel on food relief work, says, “The nutrition of children has been hit. The children in many areas can’t access these centres because of police personnel beating them.”
Sanitation issues is also a major challenge. “We know we have to wash our hands to protect ourselves against the virus. But we don’t get so much water,” says Kuldeep. “Even the public toilets are not clean.”