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Time to implement policies for ‘invisible’ street children

Through adequate policy coverage, budget allocations and making them more visible by giving them an identity, we will be protecting the rights and lives of street children. In the process, we will also make our cities safe for our children

opinion Updated: Apr 12, 2018 18:03 IST
Children who live on their own without any adult/parental care, protection and guidance are the most vulnerable(Sanjeev Verma/ HT)

April 12 is International Day for Street Children, but it is unlikely that these invisible children — who most of us see but do not notice — are aware of it being a day to look at their concerns. Street children are largely an urban phenomenon and they are spread across most of our cities.

Rural poverty and economic opportunities are the biggest push factors for massive migration from rural to urban areas. Children run away to urban settings because of abuse, both physical and sexual, failure and misplaced expectations — often with the misconception that where they are running to is better than what they are running from.

Children who live on their own without any adult/parental care, protection and guidance are the most vulnerable. They are often abused, even sexually, while they try to fend for themselves. After struggling to survive on the streets on their own, they too become numb and fall victim to the attractions that the streets offer — substance abuse, alcohol, sex or simply the tricks of making quick money.

The problems of these children living in such conditions are complex. First, they are invisible and life on the street is hard. This makes them live on the precipice of mental hygiene and sanity. Despite the juvenile justice Act, children who are in conflict with the law are more often than not treated as adult criminals. The juvenile homes they are sent to are more like detention centres with very basic counselling and guidance facilities.

If this situation continues in the backdrop of a growing migrant inflow into the cities, the lopsided economic growth will ensure the multiplying the number of juvenile delinquents. That would be a great price to pay for the smart and shining cities that we envisage.

To reverse this situation so that there is equitable and balanced growth, we need to make sure that every child on the street is taken care of. For that, we need to identify them.

Today, the numbers differ and we need to have uniform methods of counting them. Once we know the numbers and where the children are, we need to find out the extent of vulnerability. If they have, for instance, just arrived in the city or are willing to go back to the villages where they came from, explore the possibilities of repatriating them. A good example is the Jharkhand state office in Delhi, which is working with Save the Children to identify such children and make sure that they are sent safely back to their source destinations.

If they come from abusive and dysfunctional homes, work with the communities in finding them foster homes. All this has to be done with the explicit understanding of the children and they should participate in those decisions.

If children can’t go back, the first thing to do is to help them come out of their invisibility. Invisibility is the major cause for their abuse and the denial of what they are truly entitled to. The drive by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), with the support of Ministry of Women and Child (MWCD) is path-breaking. They have created a step-by-step standard operating process (SOP) for the care and protection of street children. This has been launched in seven cities. More important, the drive is working with the municipalities to provide these children with Aadhaar cards, thus giving them an identity. This is the first step to access their rights and entitlement. The Aadhaar card distribution has already started in Delhi and Bhubaneswar.

What India has in abundance are policies, but we remain slow in their implementation. Today, children living on the streets are not covered directly by any policy framework though there is indirect policy outreach. This lack of policy for street children also throws up obvious disadvantages such as there being no budget allocations by the government. With adequate policy coverage, budget allocations and making them more visible by giving them an identity, we will be making sure that our cities are safe for our children.

Thomas Chandy is CEO, Save the Children, India

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 12, 2018 18:01 IST