The twenty-first century presents a hostile face to many millions of children around the world especially who lived on the streets. An increasing number of children are being forced to the streets as result of poverty, abuse, torture, rape, abandonment or orphaned by dreadful diseases. The risks of children living street life are great and their vulnerability to exploitation is enormous.
A 2016 survey by Save the Children in Lucknow, Mughalsarai, Kolkata- Howrah, Patna and Hyderabad found 84,563 children living on the streets. An older study by the same organization in Delhi put their number at 50,000.
The Problems of Homeless Children: Health: Poor health is a chronic problem for homeless children. Half of all children in India are malnourished, but for street children the proportion is much higher. These children are not only underweight, but their growth has often been stunted; for example, it is very common to mistake a 12 year old for an 8 year old. Street children live and work amidst trash, animals and open sewers. Not only are they exposed and susceptible to disease, they are also unlikely to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment.
- Only two in three Indian children have been vaccinated against TB, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio and Measles; - Only one in ten against Hepatitis B.
- Most street children have not been vaccinated at all.
- Child labourers suffer from exhaustion, injury, exposure to dangerous chemicals, plus muscle and bone afflictions.
-Poverty: Poverty is the prime cause of the street children crisis. Children from well-off families do not need to work, or beg. They live in houses, eat well, go to school, and are likely to be healthy and emotionally secure. In order to survive, a poor child in India will probably be forced to sacrifice education and training; without skills the child will, as an adult, remain at the bottom of the economic heap.
- Abuse: Many of the street children who have run away from home have done so because they were beaten or sexually abused. Tragically, their homelessness can lead to further abuse through exploitative child labour and prostitution.
- Education: When a child is abandoned and left isolated on the streets, they are uneducated about why they are alone. Thousands of kids blame themselves for their desertion, even though they are not to blame. Street children are forced to face unwanted and awful obstacles at an extremely young age. Both girls and boys do not have a role model to follow, and try to survive day by day. Even though the right to education is a fundamental right, the street childrens are devoid of this fundamental right.
- Child Labour: Common jobs are the collecting of firewood, tending to animals, street vending, dyeing, begging, prostitution and domestic labour. Children that work are not only subject to the strains and hazards of their labour, but are also denied the education or training that could enable them to escape the poverty trap. - Security: Homeless children are excluded from stable protection because children are neglected from the attention of their loved ones. Children are extremely vulnerable. They do not know how to differ from right and wrong. India has the largest number of street children in the age group of eight to eighteen years; these children are exposed to a risky social environment daily.
- Violent Environment: The street is an unprotected environment where street children are exploited frequently. In some places, street children may even face the possibility of physical injuries or death from violence. Common sources of violence are: the police, gangs, drug syndicates, those who operate commercial sex businesses, death squads, other street children,families and sexual partners. Street children may prostitute themselves in order to survive—often to meet their addictions. A great deal of the exploitation remains clandestine. It occurs through contacts in nightclubs or bars or through high-end escort services where the abuse takes place in privately rented apartments.
- Sexual and reproductive health problems: Common sexual and reproductive health problems include sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Sexual and reproductive health problems affect both girls and boys.
- Expose to diseases: Constant physical and mental strain and living in environment least protected against health hazards makes street children highly prone to infectious diseases.
- Insecurity and Anxiety: Street children develop a number of psychological problems due to insecurity and continued anxiety, violation, maladjustive behavior throughout their lives. After being migrated to the street, children have to face police, the employer, the local criminals, and exploitation all as their own.
Government Response-A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations for their rehabilitation and safeguarding was released by Ministry for Women & Child Development. The SOP aims at streamlining the interventions within the current legal and policy framework. The purpose of the SOP is to identify processes that should be set in motion once a child on the street has been identified as a child in need. These processes would be within the existing framework of rules and policies and would create a convergence of the various agencies. Besides it also provides a step-by-step guideline for all the stakeholders for care, protection and rehabilitation of these children.
- The government has also launched Integrated Scheme for Street Children is for organizations who are working for the welfare of street children’s. Under the scheme government will provide 90% of the expenses to the organizations providing shelter, food, education and other basic necessities to the children’s who are destitute, living on street, slum,residents etc. Goal of this scheme is to safeguard the children especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation such as children of sex workers and children living on streets.
- Ministry of labour has included street children in their livelihood training programmes.
- The Indian Council of child welfare has included street childrens in their programmes.
Recommendations for improvement - Shelters: Shelters for homeless families need to be created across the city, as per the directions of the Supreme Court in the PUCL Vs. Union of India case (Writ Petition (C) 196 of 2001), where all state governments have been directed to construct 24-hour shelters for the homeless population in all cities with population of more than 5 lakh at the rate of one shelter of 100 capacity per lakh of population.
- Basic Amenities: The civic authorities should provide basic amenities like water, sanitation and anganwadi facilities (through the ICDS) to all families living on pavements and in de-notified slums so that health and hygiene conditions of these families can be improved.
- Education: For street living children, more night shelters should be started with access to food and nutrition, drinking water, and sanitation facilities and link them with the education system as per mandatory provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009. These shelters may be implemented through NGOs, supported by the civic authorities (by providing them space and financial aid), or run by the government.
- There is a need to bring all children in the 6 to 14 age group into the education system through better implementation of the RTE Act. Steps need to be taken to admit and keep children in schools; requiring intervention at two levels. Firstly, there is need to identify, support and encourage school-going children through educational sponsorships and tutorials. Lack of educational support and conducive climate in families struggling with daily survival and other challenges, require such intervention. Secondly, steps are required to identify children who have not yet been enrolled into schools.
- Effective Implementation of the Schemes: A significant number of street children belong to the SC/ST categories. The Department of Social Justice and Assistance (SJA), GoM, and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (SJE), GoI, should examine their existing schemes to include this group and extend educational support to them.
- Identification: The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and NGOs should actively reach out to street children.
- Children into rag-picking, especially at hazardous sites such as dumping grounds, are a cause of serious concern. Urgent steps need to be taken to provide alternate housing to families living at these sites and rehabilitate children found working there. The role of employers is important – they need to be educated on the hazards – and in enforcing the law.
- In case of children in the 16-18 years category, steps should be taken to link them with vocational education, apart from regular or open schooling.
- The Special Juvenile Police Units (SJPUs) created under the JJ Act at all police stations should play a proactive role to reach out to street children who are vulnerable to physical/sexual abuse.
-Rehabilitation: There is a need to create and set up de-addiction and rehabilitation facilities for children into substance abuse. A dual strategy for rescue and outreach should be devised.
- The Social Work Departments along with the Preventive Social Medicine (PSM) Departments attached to Municipal or Government Hospitals should make special efforts to reach out to such children through regular outreach and health camps at various locations where such children may be found. Girl children who have attained the age of puberty could be periodically counseled. A system of distributing sanitary napkins, awareness about reproductive health and sexuality, and regular check-ups could be carried out in these health camps.