STREET CHILD: THE UNHEARD CRY
Dr. Bharat Prasad Singh*
Former-Professor, Upgraded Dept., of Pediatrics Patna Medical College, Patna Past President, Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Bihar (2002). *
"National Policy for Children - 74" have proclaimed children as "Nation's - supremely important asset".

India has largest number of street children. They are unique group with special needs - (a) Their qualities in general and (b) their health needs

THE PROBLEM
  1. UNICEF :- 100 million children live on streets in world's cities. 40 million of these in Latin America.
  2. INDIA :- 414,700 street children live in six major cities i.e., - Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kanpur, & Mumbai.Study in 1996 showed -
    Chennai - 1,50,000 street children
    Coimbatore - 2,50,000 street children

It is an urban phenomenon. Children take to street as an act of survival. They are forced to choose between: (a) The misery without freedom of the child's supposed home and, (b) The misery with freedom of the street and child opt for the latter.

Definition : A street child is any minor for whom the street has become his/her habitual abode & place of work and who is without adequate protection. UNICEF has divided children in three categories:
  1. Children on Street :

    Children on street with regular contact with their families.

  2. Children of the Street :

    Children on the street who treat street as their place of shelter and livelihood having occasional contacts with their families.

  3. Abandoned Children :

    Children living on street completely on their own, with practically no contact with their family.

These distinctions are useful in assessing needs specific to each group. Indian streets are confounded by entire families living on them.

STREET CHILD IMAGE: Some popular perceptions are:

  • These children have run away from their homes because:
    • They have been abandoned by their parents
    • Sexually abused
    • Have alcoholic fathers who abuse them
    • Their families disintegrated because of poverty
  • Fate of these children:

    • End up as criminals
    • Become terrorists and revolutionaries
    • Do not survive to adulthood
    • Cannot be rehabilitated
  • Conditions of these children:
    • Starving
    • Tend to steal; has no morals
    • Are uncontrollably violent
    • Have diseases like AIDS
    • Lost ability to feel emotions e.g., love

What drives children to the street:
  • Poverty - entire family wage worker, so if children forced to work they run away from home.
  • Urbanization - Rural child faced with drought, earthquake, flood, famine, war, hard and unrewarding farm work, unattractive schools, go to cities. Cinema, T.V., attraction etc., lured to cities for better life.
  • Family Problem - Quarreling parents, alcoholism, violence by father, step mother, lack of love, death of parents, etc.

Demographic Details
80-90% are boys than girls, as family is more protective for girls. Girls tend to work at home and or help at home. Girl child on street falls prey to unsocial elements and get into prostitution. Street children mostly are above 6 years of age usually 11-15 years of age. Street children rarely go on to be street adult.

Occupation of street children:
  • Rag/cup picking
  • Mechanic shops
  • Errands for small business
  • Coolie/Porter
  • Shoe Polish
  • Begging
  • Prostitution
  • Bakery work, Tea stall
  • Carrying bags, newspaper selling, car-washing, etc
  • No work

Earnings:
Earn 25-30 Rs./day - spent same day on food, movies, gambling, addiction, etc. No saving as they do not have knowledge, nor trust in bank to save.

Special Needs of the Street Children:
  • Health Care:-
    (a) Never seeks health care (b) Private treatment not affordable (c) Govt. hospitals do not care (d) Illness treated with remedies from medical shops, (e) Common problem include - injuries, respiratory - GIT infection, Skin disease, Scabies etc., (f) Nutritional deficiencies (g) STD & AIDS, (h) Smoking, Alcoholism, Pan Masala, Tobacco, etc.
  • Sanitation:-
    (a) Have no access to safe drinking water (b) to toilet facilities (c) No every day bath (d) No clean clothes
  • Safety:-
    (a) Frequent arrest, Questioning, beating and dubious charges (b) beaten by other street children during fight (c) First to be suspected of any wrong doing by adults.


  • Education
  • Employment
  • Recreation li> Counseling

What is being done for the street children: Shelters:
  • NGO's have set up shelters in major cities to give refuge with temporary lodging and food. Some have assistance booths on railway stations, where runaway children are encouraged to return home or else admitted to hostels.

Correctional Centres:
  • These centers treat these children as delinquents and enroll them in "treatment centers" or "reform-schools"
  • Some programs use rehabilitative approach and attempt to reintegrate into mainstream by providing various skills
  • Schools for non formal education
  • Provide books, dresses

Street Programs:
  • To teach money management and introduce them to banks
  • Stress management
  • Coping and combating addiction and resolving conflicts
  • They have natural flair for performing arts and paintings

Helplines:
  • Delhi and Mumbai has toll-free childline which any child can call up for assistance during sickness or trouble.
Special Clinics:
  • Operate at suitable hours for street children to provide health care
  • For vocational training and job placement by some agencies.

Security:
  • Police provided identity cards to rag pickers
  • Some unions to advocate their causes
  • Conferences and gatherings of street children
  • Some agencies organize camps and campaigns to sensitize public and workers about their various needs and problem.

WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE

Short term measures:

(a) Essential to know the precise numbers of street children in each city and to know their lifestyles.

(b) Basic amenities:
  • Safe drinking water, toilet and bathroom
  • NGO's like Sulabh International to be contacted to do these works and also work together with Govt. agencies
  • Methodologies need to be developed to determine various aspects of problem
  • Child participation - using discussion, interviewing, questionnaires have been found to be innovative, fun, suitable for children and easy to manage.
  • NGO's & Govt. agencies working among street children need to have more interaction. They should involve street children and law enforcement authorities to work out realistic solution.

WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE

Longterm Solutions:
  1. Socio-economic reasons e.g., poverty, urbanization and outdated primary education that force children on street, must be addressed.
  2. Child labor must be abolished
  3. Families must be offered soft loans for small industries and vocational training
  4. Schooling must be made compulsory and it must be accessible
  5. Promote rural development
  6. Provide community services to address problems of alcoholism and domestic violence.
  7. Gram Panchayats to provide support services like child care, resolution of conflicts and to keep children in natural environment.

One Amharic proverb says - As porridge benefits those who heat and eat it, so does a child benefit those that rear it.
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