NEW DELHI, Dec 10 (Bernama) — As the icy north Indian wind begins to sweep across the land-locked capital, it has little mercy for helpless children in the streets.
Along the busy street, a barefoot-teenage girl draped in a tattered shawl, sells women’s magazines to motorists who stop at traffic junctions in the southern part of New Delhi, despite the impending danger.
While on the opposite side of the street, a neatly dressed but nervous-looking teenager criss-crosses the same road and peeps into every car that halts at the same junction trying to sell his colourful pendants displaying pictures of gods and gurus.
The temperature continues to drop in this capital city but these two children continue to defy nature’s harsh climate to earn some paisa to feed themselves in the gripping winter.
Similarly, an estimated 400,000 street children in the city hog the streets daily to eke out a painful living in the bustling capital — resisting all kinds of harassment, from changing climate to child abusers.
Undernourished and thinly dressed, many homeless street children appear to be the most vulnerable people during winter, especially this time around where the weatherman expects temperature to dip below 10 degrees Celsius during most nights in the coming months.
Many of them escape grinding poverty at home, broken families or abusive parents, and bravely venture into the city to feed themselves, despite the extreme cold conditions or scorching heat in summer, which arrives just after winter in the month of May.
"They face the worst moments during winter. They have little to eat and will sleep anywhere. Under the flyovers, footpaths or in parks," says Zaved Nafis Rahman, the street project co-ordinator with Butterflies, a local-based social organisation that works closely with street kids.
India’s economic success is yet to reach these children and in the cold weather they fend for themselves earning as little as 20 to 70 rupees (RM2 to RM7), just enough to feed their hungry stomach.
They come as cheap casual labour in the overcrowded city that is largely over-populated by migrating workers from impoverished neighbouring states to Delhi in search of decent jobs.
Young children are often found slogging in the bazaars, tea stalls, some work as rag-pickers, street vendors and porters.
As Delhi, home to about 12 million people, braces for the brutal cold winter this time, authorities are in the process of erecting temporary tents to shelter these homeless children, said Zaved but that is inadequate to house all the street children, the actual number which is still unknown to any.
"We try to provide a place to sleep, blankets and toilet facilities during winter because many do not have a proper place to stay. But many don’t know where to go and get lost in the city," he added.
Zaved is concerned about the fate of these children if the winter gets colder as he recalls that in 2003 some 70 people, including children, died of biting cold.
Winter is likely to play havoc in the capital once again where temperature dipped to 7.3 degrees Celsius last week and it is already snowing in Kashmir, where some parts were covered by seven feet of snow.
Delhi’s skyline continues to be enveloped by thick fog and the temperature gets colder.
Whatever the temperature may be, whether the mercury rises or drops, these helpless children continue their trade, as their pale faces wither in the harsh conditions of the northern belt, which is often vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.