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Street Children Phenomena – The Street Living Children in India

Literature on street children in India is still restricted to the perspective of treating this category of children as different from other categories of underprivileged children. Every street child has a reason for being on the streets. While some children are lured by the promise of excitement and freedom, the majority are pushed onto the street by desperation and the realization that they have nowhere to go. Children are often attracted to Mumbai for various reasons.

The push factors in their home communities include poverty, inadequate family support, and peer influence. The pull factors in the city include fantasies of meeting Bollywood movie stars, unrealistic images of city life as portrayed by the media, and the desire to explore a new life in the metropolitan city. Some street children may have run away from home or been forcibly thrown out, due to conflict with parents, broken homes, or ill treatment by family members.

What is evident is that once on the street, these children are poverty stricken and they have to struggle to meet their basic survival needs. D’Souza (2004) has tried to incorporate all the associated factors in the street children’s phenomenon in Mumbai. The diagram below illustrates the forces (macroscopic, mesoscopic and microscopic) that seem uncontrollable and which perpetuate and consequently produce street-living patterns in children.
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Fig. 1 -The Street Child Phenomenon-An Inverted Reality

The street children in India are of two types. Some of these children have migrated along with their parents and stay on the pavements/street or their families have been on the pavements for a long period of time and these children are born and brought up on the street itself; while others have run away from their native place for various reasons and have landed on the streets of Metropolitan cities. The push factors at their birthplace such as poverty, inadequate family support, peer influence and the pull factors in the city like fantasy to meet movie stars, unrealistic images of city life through media and desire to explore new life in the metropolitan city bring them to Mumbai.  Therefore one comes across many street children who have run away from home or been forcibly thrown out, due to conflicts with parents, broken home, ill treatment by family members, or attracted to the city life through the mass media.

Estimated Numbers of Street Children in India : 

No accurate estimate of the number of street children in India is available right now. This is because of various reasons. Firstly different Govt. as well as NGOs define street children in different ways. Secondly, they are a dynamic group of children who keep on shifting from one place to another or their association with NGOs is often not long term. Many of them shift from one programme to another as per their wish and convenience. And thirdly, no serious effort to create a data base of street children has been undertaken so far. UNICEF’s estimate of 11 million street children in India in 1994 is considered to be conservative. It is estimated that there are 100,000 – 125,000 street children each in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, with 45,000 in Bangalore.  Aggrawal (1999) estimated that India has nearly 20 million street children (approximately 7% of the child population)

Rane (2004), based on her study throws a light on the characteristics of street children in India. The majority of street children are boys (65 to 82%). Street girls are not often visible and it is difficult to trace them. But they are the most vulnerable of street kids. A large number of them (40 per cent) belong to the age group of 11-15 years, followed by the age group of 6-10 years (almost one-third of the total street child population). In Calcutta and Hyderabad there are more children in the age group 6-10 years on the streets; while in Bombay and Bangalore the 11-15 age group figure high (40 per cent and 80 per cent respectively). Out of every ten street children in India, eight are found to be Hindus. Christians and Muslims constitute a negligible proportion of the total street children. Only the cities of Madras and Bangalore have street children from Christian communities, while street children belonging to the Muslim community are in substantial number in Bombay, Calcutta and Kanpur. Among the Hindu street children almost half belong to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

 

Contrary to the prevalent belief most of the street children in the metropolitan cities of India are not without family support. Studies indicate that as high as 89.8 per cent live with their parents or other members of their family. A majority of street children work. Almost half of the working street children are self-employed such as rag pickers, hawkers and shoeshine boys. Almost one-third of the street children work in shops and establishments. Most of the street children in India are exposed to dirt, smoke and other environmental hazards. They are constantly exposed to sun, rain and cold. The health condition of street children is generally poor and many suffer from chronic diseases like asthma and dysentery.

It is observed that the condition of the Platform Children is quite similar to the general lot of street children. A recent study by Chetna Delhi and  NGOs Plan India, covering Nizammudin, Faridabad, Mathura, Agra, Gwalior, Jhansi, Beena and Bhopal stations, also threw up some light on the physical, social and emotional well-being of the children and on the impact of four major rights (survival, protection, development and participation) of the children. Documenting the lives of children working on railway stations between Delhi and Bhopal, this study covering 682 working children (605 boys and 77 girls) has revealed that as many as 23 per cent were living in poor physical conditions.

 

The children revealed that lack of shelter, improper medical facilities, physical and sexual abuse and lack of parental support were among the many problems they had to endure day-to-day. The research tools used for the study were participatory observation, mapping of station, case studies of children living/working on platform, meetings with railway authorities, RPF/GRPF Commandants, and with NGOs. The study found that the male-female ratio of children working and living on railway platform was 8:1 and 71.3 per cent of the total children were less than 14 years and 40 per cent of the total population was in the age group of 11-14 years. Children here are involved in a variety of work including vending, begging, rag picking, bottle picking, acrobat, cleaning, shoe shining, and selling refilled water bottle. (Gupta, 2006)

One of the major differences between the street children in general and the railway children is the fact that most railway children lack family contact. This makes them more and more addicted to the street life.