Dimapur | June 1 : According to NGOs, 5 to 10% of Naga children are out living on the streets. Most of them come from broken homes and situations of extreme poverty. Running away from home, dropping out of school and indulging in anti-social activities are often the traits of neglected children. With little education and parental guidance; and with no sense of direction and social security these children are fast becoming a liability to society.
Chuba (18) a native of Wamaken village under Mokokchung district ran away from his home seven years ago. He was brought to Dimapur to work as a herdsman but he escaped before he was taken to the house where his stay was arranged. Ever since that day, Chuba had been literally living on the streets till he entered a ‘night shelter’ in Railway colony seven months ago. Chuba recollects his days on the streets saying he used drugs for three and a half years. He and his friends survived by committing petty thefts and in the process were locked up many times by the police and was even lodged in the Dimapur sub-jail once. Chuba says there are many Naga boys out there living on the streets but most of them come out only at night so people don’t see them. He adds that many boys move to Guwahati because “dendrite is easily available.”
Raka (name changed) ran away from home when he came to know that his parents were planning to sell him off to some drug peddlers. The peddlers, sources informed, had offered a few lakhs to Raka’s parents in exchange for him; and had plans to overdose him on drugs so that they could then use his bones to make drugs! Raka ate, drank and slept on the streets till he too came to the night shelter. However, he left within just a few days and his whereabouts remain unknown.
These are just few of the many invisible faces of our society. According to the 2005-07 statistics made available by an NGO, there were 515 children living on the streets. The figures have most definitely gone up they say. “These are children who literally live on the streets; no roof above their heads and most fill their stomach by committing petty thefts, pick pocketing and duping people,” Subonenba Longkumer said. Subonenba runs the night shelter and is a teacher at a community school in Railway colony.
The night shelter was opened in October 2007 and has since been a resting place to many children of the streets. Some stay for a few months and some for just a night. “The objective is to give these children a place to rest their heads. They can come, eat sleep and feel at home,” Subonenba said. There have often been clashes with the police at the night shelter because many of the children have indulged in petty crimes and the police are always on the look out for them.
The rate at which children are flooding the streets is alarming but the government is unaware, sources say. And this includes Naga children. These children are vulnerable to various infectious diseases like TB, HIV/AIDS and scabies. They are also abject to torture and abuse by police and since the state has no juvenile court or juvenile care centers to protect and counsel them, these children are vulnerable targets. The department of social welfare is not particularly aware about the conditions of these children literally living on the streets. Many departmental officials confirmed that there is no special provision for such children and that only a generalized scheme to cover children living below the poverty line exists.
“We need to include children in our society. The government has to identify these children and provide special measures to rehabilitate them,” Subonenva says. The children on the streets are all helpless victims and have no where to turn to but the Child help-line 1089 has not yet been implemented in the state. The District Welfare Office has however said that it is in the process and is likely to operate soon.
The old Naga Hoho building opposite the Tourist Lodge is a hub for many young street children and adults, mostly drug users. Most of these children come out only at night, committing petty thefts for survival. “Many come from broken homes where they are neglected and have no sense of leading a good life,” Subonenba says, and added that if we continue to let street children exist, it will have a negative impact on our society.
It is observed that most people see it as a ‘family problem,’ where the parents are to blame. However, Subonenba says that children do not recognize that and feel their only options are to leave home and many become criminals, some as young as 16.