New Delhi: Fourteen-year-old Gudiya gets up at the crack of dawn and
immediately gets on to work. Empty stomach, she walks the capital
streets and around dump yards carrying a tent house of a bag on
her frail shoulders to pick rags -- all for a day's meal.
She is among the several thousands of street children who go
through trash heaps day in and out to collect material that can be
"Digging rubbish and filth is fine. What else I can do to earn a
living? One of the major problems I face is abuses from men,
beggars on streets and even policewallahs," says Gudiya.
Her friend Manu, 10, taking a deep drag of beedi, says he had to
run away from his home in Bihar to escape his drug-addict father
who often "used to beat me for silly reasons".
According to a 2010 survey by Save the Children, an NGO working
for children, as many as 51,000 children live on the streets of
the national capital.
The figure comprises of 'street-working children' who return home
on a regular basis, 'street-living children' who live on the
streets but not with their families, and children who live on the
streets with their families.
These children can be easily spotted at every bend and corner of
capital streets, especially in Okhla, Rangpuri Pahari in south
Delhi, Tughlaqabad in central Delhi, and Bhalswa Dairy and
Jahangirpuri areas in north Delhi.
"Children who live alone on streets are vulnerable to exploitation
and face abuses, be it sexual or verbal. Several of them later in
their life become addicted to drugs and turn into criminals,"
Surinder Sharma, a counsellor, said.
Speaking to IANS, Sanjay Gupta, director of NGO Chetna, said: "In
Delhi alone, several thousands of children are living on the
streets. The police turn a blind eye to the soaring crime against
these children. Police, who on many occasions treat these kids as
accused, often hesitate to take action to curb crime against
Brushing aside the NGO's claim, Additional Deputy Commissioner of
Police (Special Protection Unit for Women and Child) Suman Nalwa
said: "It is totally false. Delhi Police are working with many
renowned NGOs and social workers to give care and protection to
children living on the streets."
Ananthapriya Subramanian of Save the Children says it's high time
the government took appropriate and effective measures to
rehabilitate the children living and working off streets.
Unfortunately, the Delhi government's plan to set up around 40
centres for street and working children, under the National Child
Labour Project (NCLP), still remains a non-starter.
"The Delhi government thought of coming up with 40 centres to
provide shelter, education and other facilities to around 30,000
working children who live off the streets in the city. The project
is still pending since we lack financial assistance. We're waiting
for the central government's aid," Labour and Industries Minister
Ramakant Goswami told IANS.
However, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DPCR)
chairman Amod Kanth said: "The funds are lying with the Delhi
government, but still there is a delay in implementation of this
"Generally, there is a poor regard to child-related projects by
the government. Though the labour ministry is keen to support and
voluntary organisations are ready to help, nothing is being done.
I am not able to understand the real cause for the delay in
implementing the project, which benefits thousands of children,"
The sad part, according to Brinda Viswas, a volunteer working with
an NGO, is that these children are made to cough up a major
portion of their earnings to gang leaders or lower-rung policemen.
"On an average, a child earns around Rs.2,000 a month."
Even as NGOs and policy-makers debate action plans to rehabilitate
the street children, thousands like Gudiya and Manu sleep near
piles of rags when temperature dips well below 10 degrees Celsius
during chilly winter nights.
(Pratibha Raju can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)