From Street to Schools: Life of Street Children
With a significant gap in the mechanism that provides main stream education and comprehensive residential care to children in street situations, it is important to integrate their needs into urban policies and planning, writes Abhay Singh.
Despite dreaming of a better future, like other children, 13-year-old Nitish had been working at a chow mien stall in west Delhi. Several months ago his life took a turn and he got admitted to an MCD school, where after studying day and night he was able to secure the second position in his class II exams.
"I was not happy when people told me to bring chow mien or sometimes they threatened me saying that if their ordered food arrived late they would beat me. I was depressed knowing my life was not good," Nitish told Millennium Post. His father works at a furniture shop and his mother works at a Kothi as a maid. Volunteers of an NGO named Chetna met with his parents and explained them the importance of education. After several attempts, Nitish's mother agreed to send him to school, and the child showed his talent. Even being a street child he was able to secure a position in the class. "Now I feel better when people appreciate my hard work in studies," said the child.
Life of another street child Sweety, a nine-year-old was same like Nitish, a resident of Raghubir Nagar area. Her parents run a general store in their locality and before going to school, Sweety was spending most of her time attending the shop. The parents of the girl wanted her to study but due to lack of communication skills and documents, they were unable to get her admitted to a school. Finally, with the help of the NGO, the girl got admitted, and displayed great interest in studies. This year in her class I exams, she as well ranked 2nd. Even the teachers of the school appreciate her hard work. "I was just wasting my time sitting in the shop. I saw children going to school, I wanted to go as well but our situation was not like them. Somehow I managed to get admission in the school and now the teachers appreciate my hard work," expressed the girl. Upon seeing such good performance of their child the parents did not force her to sit at the shop, and encouraged her to focus on her studies.
Rahul, another resident of Raghubir Nagar, helped his parents in selling old clothes in the nearby market, while at home, he was in-charge of taking care of his younger siblings. The parents did not have the required documents to get him admitted to a school. After getting help from the NGO the boy was admitted to a school and it was a result of his determination, that he secured the third position in class III.
"New-to-school children were earlier not being able to cope up with the environment as they have seen worse childhood days. They would often take leave or skip regular classes, but the school also came with some initiatives which helped the children," said the principal. According to a Principal of an MCD school in the west zone of Delhi, they started an initiative of zero periods, for the betterment of these children. Several activities based on education are conducted, to help the children take interest in studies.
"When these children were admitted to the school, we noticed that they were not coming regularly, so we told them a prize will be given to those who would come to school regularly, and it worked. We appreciated those children in school assembly so as to motivate the other children," said the principal. During parent-teacher meetings the parents of the children were enlightened about the importance of education as well.
Rakesh Senger from Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation stated that the children should not be in the street, they should be at school. "Rescue and rehabilitation are very much important for the development of the children," said Senger. Cities in India are witnessing rapid urbanisation. By 2030, 40 per cent of India's population is expected to be living in urban areas which mean that child population in streets will continue to grow. Therefore, it is important to integrate the needs of 'children in street situations' into urban policies and planning. 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 organisation in Delhi put their number at 50,000.
NGO Chetna along with ToyBox helped these children in getting admission. Initially, it was not easy, for many of the parents did not have any idea about the importance of education. But after several meetings with them, they were finally convinced to get their children enrolled in the school. According to the NGO, they faced challenges at every step but overcame them gradually. They continuously motivated the children and their parents, by conducting regular home visits and school visits and interaction with parents. Sanjay Gupta from the NGO stated that it was not at all an easy mission. Sending street children to school is one of the toughest jobs. It is against the mindset of parents, community, and children, who think that education does not convert into earnings.
Spokesperon of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on children in 'street situation' says, "Deprived of adequate and appropriate adult protection, education and health-care, 'children in street situations' survive precariously and often bravely in the unsafe environment of city streets. They subsist at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the country and are among the most vulnerable of all children. All children in 'street situations' are child workers, mostly in the non-formal sector and mostly outside the purview of formal education and public health services. These children are not specifically addressed in most policies that pertain to children, such as, protection, education, health, water, sanitation, and urban development and welfare policies in general. Little is known with certainty about the actual numbers of 'children in street situations.' They are an extremely mobile group, part of the floating population and very hard to reach."
Recently the commission has come up with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for care and protection of 'children in street situations' for their rehabilitation and safeguarding. The Child Rights Commission felt the urgent need to outline a detailed intervention framework for care and protection of children living in street situation as the problems faced by these children are multi-dimensional and complex. The SOP stated that 'children in street situations' are out of school and spend most of their time working in an inhumane environment. There was a significant gap in the mechanism that provides mainstream education and comprehensive residential care to these children. "A rapidly urbanising India requires a continuous understanding of the issues related to 'children in street situations' to ensure that no child lives in abject poverty or at margins of society," said the SOP.
Komal Ganotra from the Child Rights and You (CRY) stated that education can bring a positive change in the life of street children and their families. "The child who did not get an education had bad effects on their health or they got married early, so that's why education is important," said Ganotra. According to CRY investing in children early-on, ensures critical growth and development at an individual level and also has a larger effect on economic growth. Investment has to come from both the state through good health services, and society/ parents.
Rupa Kapoor member of NCPCR said that they are taking every step related to their development. "We are working with the government and we will also prepare Aadhar cards for these children," said Kapoor.