Charity helping Mumbai street children to work with UNICEF

Charity helping Mumbai street children to work with UNICEF
6 Jul, 2008, 1108 hrs IST, PTI

LONDON: A charity engaged in improving the lives of street children in Mumbai has been chosen to work with the UNICEF in India and Vietnam for developing such kids’ life skills through the medium of sports.

The charity ‘Magic Bus’ and UNICEF plan to set up several pilot projects in various Indian states and train sports instructors and school teachers, the organisation’s Founder and Chairman, Matthew Spacie, MBE, said.

To start with, the programme would be extended to Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and rural Maharashtra with the "ultimate aim of involving 100,000 street children," Spacie, who quit Cox & Kings as its Chief Operating Officer in India to set up the charity in 1999, told PTI.

UK Sport, British government’s international sports agency, is also supporting the work of Magic Bus.

After winning the bid in Singapore to host the 2012 Olympics in London, the UK government had pledged to help develop sports in five countries and one of them is India.

"As a result, Magic Bus has been chosen to work with UNICEF in India to expand Magic Bus’ internationally renowned programme across the country," Spacie said.

The Greater Mumbai Corporation has also chosen Magic Bus to train teachers. "We plan to train 12 master trainers in each city who in turn will train 200 trainers every year. Many of the master trainers are selected by us and the government."

Magic Bus is implementing a sports project in Chattisgarh also with UNICEF’s assistance. "At the international level, we are coaching master trainers in Vietnam," Spacie said.

"Harnessing the power of sport to build self esteem, confidence and vital life skills, Magic Bus works in India to change the lives of children living on the streets and slums of Mumbai – children involved in drugs, children in red light district, orphans and rescued labourers."


When theatre teaches lessons from life

When theatre teaches lessons from life
June 23rd, 2008

By Vidhu Aggarwal
New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) Bedraggled boys hawking magazines and trinkets at traffic crossings in the national capital would irritate nine-year-old Saumitra Khuller to no end. He never thought he would some day re-enact their lives on stage. Today, Khuller, a class four student of Delhi Public School, Vasant Vihar, has a totally different insight – thanks to a theatre workshop he attended and where he reprised the role of a street child who begs for a livelihood.

His love for acting made him join a workshop for children in the 9-14 age group conducted by noted theatre director Arvind Gaur at the India Habitat Centre. The 10-day-long event earlier this month opened his eyes to the trials and tribulations of street children.

“I used to get irritated when they used to run after my car – but not any more,” Khuller told IANS.

He said the workshop, organised by NGO Katha, gave him a deep insight into the lives of street children. At its conclusion, Khuller along with 20 children from well-to-do families enacted the play “Ansuni” (Those whose voices are unheeded) that was actually three playlets.

One depicted the manner in which a schoolteacher inspires a gang of street children to focus on educating themselves. The other highlighted the life of leprosy patients and the third was about a woman caught in a communal riot.

“I think everyone should help street children. No one should tease them or think bad about them just because they are illiterate and poor. They want to study but they are unable to. They just need a helping hand,” said Khuller, sounding wiser than his tender years.

During the workshop, he also realised that most of these children are runaways, mostly because their parents either ill-treated or physically abused them.

“Now whenever I see these street children, I feel sympathetic towards them. I think the government should help them by providing them with education and preventing them from taking drugs,” the young lad maintained.

“Every school should take up the education of some of these children,” Khuller said, pointing to the message of “Ansuni”.

Another student whose perception has completely changed after the workshop is Sanjana Navani, an 11-year-old who essayed the role of a Muslim woman fighting for justice after her life is changed forever by a communal riot.

For the Sardar Patel Vidayalaya girl, who was praised for her immense talent, a communal riot previously meant just a skirmish.

“I had heard about communal riots but was unaware of their real meaning. I was surprised when we were told that the clashes are so horrible that people are tortured and even burnt and buses and other vehicles are set on fire,” she added.

The class six student was so horrified when she realised what a communal riot actually meant that she said she would not watch anything related to it on TV.

On another level, Navani said she would “try to convince people that such things are wrong”.

For director Gaur, teaching the children the little nuances of theatre was a great experience and he felt that those who attended were at the right age to build confidence, team spirit and remove stage fright.

“Young children were chosen for the workshop because they don’t have apprehensions. By familiarising children with the life of street children, communal riots and leprosy, an understanding and acceptance was created that street children are not children of a lesser god,” Gaur maintained.

“Initially, it was very sad to discover that though these children go to reputed public schools, their sensitivity about such issues was zero as they had very skewered views about street children,” said Gaur, who heads the theatre group “Asmita”.

“Issues like communal riots and leprosy are very old and children should be acquainted with them. So, I decided that we could educate these children through theatre,” he added.

To go by his student’s responses, Gaur succeeded to a considerable extent in achieving what he set out to do.

In India, a bank for street children

India, New Delhi, homeless, bank

Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Children line up at the small bank office located in a corner of the shelter to deposit and withdraw funds. Homeless children in the Indian capital city of New Delhi are saving and drawing money from a bank that they have opened in a homeless shelter.
Run almost entirely by the youths, a bare-bones bank sponsored by a charity offers a place to stash meager earnings and learn about saving and planning.
By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 7, 2008
NEW DELHI — The bank manager’s tone was crisp and efficient.

"Name?" he asked.

Related Content

"Amit," came the reply from beneath a grimy white baseball cap.

"Father’s name?" asked the manager, 14 years old and all business.

"Sanjay," said the customer, 13.

With his identity thus established, Amit Kumar Tripathi withdrew 330 rupees, or about $8.25, from his savings account, which Ajay Singh Choudhury, the skinny manager, fished out of a drawer, handed over in a wad of rumpled notes and dutifully recorded in a ledger almost as big as his torso.

Then it was on to the next boy in line at one of the more unusual financial institutions in India’s capital.

Run almost entirely by and for street children, the bare-bones bank sponsored by a local charity offers the youths a safe place to stash the bits of money they earn picking through trash for recyclables, hawking magazines and fruit at intersections or busing tables at wedding banquets.

India is home to the world’s largest population of street children, conservatively estimated at 10 million.

Their lives are far removed from the country’s growing image as an economic juggernaut powered by software engineers and ornamented with Bollywood babes. Theirs is a parallel world of struggling to survive, a world where adolescent angst is about whether another meal comes your way, or whether you can sleep through the night, unmolested, on a hard patch of pavement.

In Delhi alone, more than 100,000 youngsters are believed to live on the streets. Many remain with their poverty-stricken families, but thousands do not. A large number cluster around the city’s main railway stations — heavily trafficked areas where they can sell their wares and where passengers leave behind detritus they can pick through.

Boys scooting between train tracks, darting in and out of newly empty railway carriages, are a common sight. Many are harassed or beaten by police officers, or sexually abused by predatory adults. A fair number resort to sniffing glue. Some beg, others steal.

Many of these "railway children" are runaways who have come to the Delhi metropolis to escape abusive households or the monotony and poverty of life in the countryside.

Rohit Kumar Prasad, a sweet-faced 13-year-old who wears a silver talisman of the monkey god Hanuman around his neck, said he fled nearly two years ago from his home in the impoverished state of Bihar, in eastern India, because his father beat him.

He spends three to four hours a day hawking slices of fresh coconut at the Delhi Main Railway Station, in the crowded precincts of the Old City. He can make about 100 rupees, or $2.50, a day, part of which he sometimes spends on a plate of his favorite food, chicken and rice, as an occasional treat.

Slender and small for his age, Rohit harbors aspirations of becoming a doctor. "I want to look after poor people and their children," he said.

He sleeps in a shelter for boys run by a local charity called Butterflies. To help the youths plan for a less bleak future, the charity set up its Children’s Development Bank in 2001, a way for street children to learn lessons about money and saving that, for most, their parents aren’t around to teach.

"We see this as a life skill," said Sebastian Mathew, director of the project. "How much they save is not important. It’s the habit of saving and not spending their money on sniffing glue, smoking, watching the same movie again and again."

About 2,000 children have accounts at 12 "branches" around Delhi, located in shelters or at sites where the charity runs classes and other activities for homeless youths. Adult staff members are always present to ensure the safety of the children and to collect the takings at the end of each day, depositing the cash at regular intervals in a dedicated account in a private bank.

But in most respects, it’s the children who run the show and set the rules. At each branch, the account holders, who range in age from 9 to 18, elect two volunteer managers from the group every six months. The youngsters decided that the bank should do its best not to allow deposits of money made from stealing or selling drugs and pornography.

The branch inside the shelter near the train station sits in the corner, looking more like a lemonade stand than a house of finance. But the long box full of passbooks, and the earnest expressions of the young managers who staff the branch for an hour each evening, speak to a serious purpose.

"The children are able to deposit and save money. If they keep the money on them, it’ll get stolen, or they’ll blow it or get addicted to drugs," said Ajay, the manager, who shares the post with Rohit.

Tired of school, Ajay ran away from the mountainous state of Uttaranchal and washed up in Delhi a year and a half ago.

He likes the status and responsibility that come with being manager, although it cost him once, when he paid out 20 rupees, about 50 cents, too much to a boy making a withdrawal on a hectic day and had to make up the shortfall with money out of his own pocket.

Sanjay Kumar, a serious 13-year-old with his hair carefully combed and his shirt tucked into pants that looked a size too big, joined the queue of jostling and roughhousing bank customers one recent evening. He handed over all of the 150 rupees, about $3.75, he had earned that day from serving drinks and washing glasses at a party, carefully checking
his passbook to make sure the deposit had been credited.

He opened his account 2 1/2 years ago. It now bulges with 3,600 rupees, about $90, and has earned interest of about 90 rupees, or $2.25 — an enviable sum by the standards of children living rough, and an incentive to continue saving.

"I want to do something when I’m older," Sanjay said. "I want to open up a tea shop."

Once he turns 15, he can apply for a loan. The bank lets older youths borrow money to start businesses or continue their schooling.

Amit, the boy in the baseball cap, needed to tap into his savings for a train ticket to his village in Uttar Pradesh state because his father was laid up with a broken leg. But at the same time that he withdrew 330 rupees from his savings, the scrappy youth thoughtfully deposited 20 rupees into his separate current account.

"What little I have I put here," Amit said. "I’m saving up because I want to get educated. This money will go to good use."

The Children’s Development Bank tips the balance in favour of street children

The Children’s Development Bank tips the balance in favour of street children

An innovative international scheme is giving the young traders of Asia a helping hand in their daily fight for survival

Children queue up to bank their savings

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India’s youngest entrepreneurs queue up to bank their day’s earnings at a branch of the Children’s Development Bank

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Ram Singh does not look like a banker – but then, this barefoot 13-year-old who fends for himself on the streets of Delhi works for an unconventional bank.

Ram manages the accounts at the Fatehpuri branch of the Children’s Development Bank (CDB), a multinational co-operative run for street children by street children. His office is the corner of a night shelter on a teeming back alley close to the Old Delhi railway station. It opens for an hour every evening to allow child workers to deposit and withdraw cash and even to take out small loans.

At 7pm on a Saturday, Ram is updating his ledger book, while about 25 of his customers are fixated on a Bollywood action film playing on TV in the middle of the richly graffitied hall. Their attention is broken when a large rat bounds across the room, sending several of the smaller boys in pursuit.

Ram’s story is typical of the CDB’s clientele: he says he left his home in Uttar Pradesh, a poor state in northern India, for Delhi because his local school was no good and he wanted to follow his older brothers to the big city. “It was time I earned my own money,” he says. He thinks he was about seven at the time.

Similar tales – often relayed, like Ram’s, with something of a swagger – are common. Estimates suggest that as many as 400,000 children work on the streets of Delhi – mostly as hawkers, ragpickers and lackeys for small businesses – a figure roughly equivalent to the population of Bristol. Across the whole of India, it is reckoned that at least 18million minors lack proper homes. The vast majority of them, of course, are complete strangers to financial services.

Rita Panika, of Butterflies, the non-governmental organisation that founded the first CDB in 2001, says: “If they do not have anywhere to put their money, it often ends up being stolen – by bigger children or employers who offer to look after their pay and then refuse to hand it over.” Mindful that they had better use what they earn fast, street children often spend surplus cash on solvents to sniff, or just gamble it away. The CDB allows them to use their cash more wisely and, it is argued, gives them a greater say over their lives.

For instance, the children vote among themselves to decide who will manage the accounts. Those elected (such as Ram) are taught the basic principles of banking – but all involved pick up important life lessons, the scheme’s organisers say.

“The bank helps children to prioritise their needs and think about how they use their money,” Ms Panika says. “Most importantly they learn that it is important to have goals and to work towards them.”

The first CDB branch was founded in Delhi 2001. The organisation has more than 8,250 members, all aged between eight and 18, in 12 locations – including branches in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The average account holds £2.50 – a useful sum if you are a minor fending for yourself in South Asia.

Savings go towards projects of varying size. Hani, 14, is withdrawing 20 rupees (24p) to buy a shirt. If he has two, he tells The Times, he can wash one while wearing the other. Amit, 13, has just returned from his home town in Uttar Pradesh, after taking 750 rupees back to his family. One lad saved a seven-figure sum and bought a shop.The bank can also provide a safety net for the young entrepreneurs. Hemaut, who says he is 13 but looks much younger, is withdrawing 80 of his 100 rupees.

It is a large chunk of his capital but this afternoon the boy, who has been on Delhi’s streets for two years, was caught going about his daily trade – selling coconuts on the city’s buses. An official stole all the money he had on him – 150 rupees – and took his stock. He will use the 80rupees to buy some plastic pens with lights on them, which he hopes to sell tomorrow.

Remarkably, there is no sense that Hemaut feels cheated – neither by the crooked bus inspector nor by the cards life has dealt him. “If it was not for my bank account, I’d be in real trouble,” he says.

Big numbers, small sums

— As many as 150 million children live on the world’s streets

— A child in Delhi earns about 40 rupees (50p) a day

— Most street children are boys and one in twenty who are members of the CDB send money back home

— Most Indian street children earn money by selling cheap goods, often at traffic lights or on trains, or by ragpicking (sifting through rubbish). Begging is common

— A Human Rights Watch report found that “Indian street children are routinely beaten by police”

Source: Time
s database

Street children struggle to survive in Mumbai

Street children struggle to survive in Mumbai

Poverty in India forces children into work, beggary and abuse. They toil for their survival. In Mumbai alone, thousands of them are homeless and ought to be protected under rehabilitative schemes as they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse..

CJ: Shilpa Hassani

SOME PEOPLE adore them. Some abhor them. Yes! They are the street children. Think about them who dont even get their daily bread; who dont have proper shelter? Does anyone care for them? Street children in India, many of them drug-addicts have been facing a bleak future.

An estimated 35,000 street children live in Mumbai. Everyday, they scavenge across the city for a better life, showing courage and resilience that would put most adults to shame.

The term ’street children’ refer to children for whom the street, more than their family has become their real home. It includes children who may not necessarily be homeless or without families, but who live in situations where there is no protection, supervision, or direction from responsible adults.

The reality of the street children is the naked and vicious face of poverty and exploitation. The tragedy is that those who bear it, are themselves innocent, lonely and frightened young children. Many of them who have run away from their homes because either they were beaten or sexually abused. Tragically, their homelessness leads to their further abuse through exploitative child labour and prostitution.

Most Indian street children work. Children who work, are not only subject to the strains and hazards of their labour, but are also denied the education or training that could enable them to escape the poverty trap.

Poor health is a chronic problem for them. Half of all children in India are malnourished, but for street children, the proportion is much higher. These children are not only underweight, but their growth has often been stunted.

Everyday, I come across such homeless kids begging, some near a ticket-counter, some near a food store, some at traffic signals, selling flowers or books.

Mumbai, a city that gives place to each and everyone, doesnt have place for them.

Their plight is getting worse day by day. Together, we can do something for them. A small deed can get millions of smiles. Therefore, people should wake up now. Give these sweet and innocent children, a better life to live and show them a proper path towards a bright future.

Street Children are Vulnerable to Crime

Street Children are Vulnerable to Crime


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.

New shelter in old city

New shelter in old city

Ishita Yadav
Posted online: Sunday , June 01, 2008 at 10:05:01

A health and day centre for children comes up near Jama Masjid

The street children of old Delhi now have a place to go to. Jamghat, a Delhi based organisation, in partnership with Max India Foundation, has set up a health and day care centre at Jama Masjid to provide street children with a clean and safe shelter and recreational activities.

Jamghat, which works for the welfare of street children, was co-founded by theatre artists Amit Sinha and Lokesh Jain in 2003. “Prince Charles was visiting Delhi and we had organised a play for him. Whatever money we made out of that performance, we spent on providing street children with recreational facilities, vocational training, food and education,” says Sinha.

The theme of the play was street children of India—14 actors in it were street children. The initial idea was to support these children for about six months and create awareness in the country about social issues. However, the boys were having so much fun that they told Sinha they didn’t want to leave. “We then realised that the only thing these children were lacking was opportunity. It was then that we decided to support them and provide them with vocational training so that they could get jobs in the real world,” says Sinha.

What followed was a number of other plays, in which college students performed. Jamghat also makes handicraft items, such as bags and photo frames, to help raise money for the children.

“After we made enough money, we set up a shelter in Lado Sarai in which we provided 15 street children with food, education and vocational training,” says Sinha. In 2004, some of the boys at Jamghat were selected under a Pakistan exchange programme to interact with children in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Finally, in 2006 the group decided to register themselves as an NGO. “Now, most of our children go to different government and public schools. One of our children is even studying at Mother’s International school,” he says proudly.

The Jama Masjid Centre provides shelter to 50 street children. The aim is to provide a healthy and learning environment to the children. “Once they grow older, we help them move out and get jobs in the real world,” Sinha says. About 35 children have managed to get jobs, some even in five-star hotels. While some are working in factories and city shops, others prefer to go back to their hometown and work there.

Sinha wants to open many more centres for such children but says that lack of funds are stopping him from doing so. “We are now looking for people or organisations that can help us make life better for these children,” he says.

In a first, BMC gets talking about street children’s health

In a first, BMC gets talking about street children’s health
Express News Service
Posted online: Saturday , May 10, 2008 at 01:07:40

Mumbai, May 9 Recently, we took a friend to the Bhagwati Hospital because he was getting lumps in his leg and were shooed out. Even the community worker there does not help us because we are street children and have no elders to accompany us,” said 17-year-old Manish Jain, who came to Mumbai a decade ago.

He, along with 12 others, voiced his concerns on Friday during a consultation for drafting guidelines towards comprehensive health services for street children. Organised by non-governmental organisation YUVA, officials from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) participated along with CHILDLINE, a first for the civic public health set-up.

Mumbai has an estimated 1.5 lakh street children, who take refuge at railway stations, pavements and shelter homes, with little or no access to healthcare.

An ongoing independent study in Dadar, Bandra, Kurla, Borivali and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus being conducted by Bangalore-based Institute of Public Health, as part of the process towards drafting the guidelines, showed that children visit government hospitals due to their affordability, but they have to purchase medicines. Of the 128 children surveyed, 98 had suffered some form of illness in the past year and 92 children visited a health facility. Some children mentioned having to pay bribes in public hospitals, while 87 children were addicted to some form of psychosomatic substances.

Most street children were seen sniffing whitener fluid. Surprisingly, no use of tobacco, sniffing glue or drugs was found in Borivali. Children at Borivali said that it was an “unspoken dictum” among them.

The study also found that NGOs are concentrated at bigger railway stations, leaving out small stations like Sandhurst Road, Wadala and Mira Road.

Further, an analysis of calls to CHILDLINE, a helpline for children, showed that 39 per cent of calls for assistance were for medical help and 28 per cent of intervention calls were by street children. As many as 5,358 calls were made in the last four years by street children seeking medical assistance and 1,595 calls were received in the last four years for medical sponsorship.

“Basically we did not have any primary data about street children. Over the last few years, we have observed that with strict police eviction from railway stations, children are sleeping under bridges and pavements. It becomes that much more difficult to track them,” said Denny John from the Institute of Public Health.

“It was a good seminar. We will take the recommendations later to senior officials at BMC,” said Dr Radha Aras from Nair Hospital. The hospital had also launched a health programme in south Mumbai, along with with NGOs, to develop peer educators or “bal doctors”. This BMC programme is not functional any more.

Aras noted that as most street children do not have bathing and toilet facilities, many suffer from chronic diseases like asthma and dysentery.

Dr Pallavi Shelke from Sion Hospital who attended Friday’s session also noted that respiratory tract infection was most common, along with complaints of diarrhoea, sticky stools, abdominal pain and worm infestation, scabies, boils, malnutrition.

Sion Hospital has been reaching out to 80 beneficiaries at the Don Bosco Shelter, Wadala, for a decade through a programme involving health education, immunisation, medical aid and referrals.

“The recommendations from this meeting will be taken back to BMC and we hope to formulate a policy. It should be a common policy for all civic hospitals,” said Mary Arokiya, YUVA.

‘Ministry has no database of street children’

‘Ministry has no database of street children’

New Delhi, May 1: The women and child development ministry has no database of street children, the target group of Integrated Scheme for Street Children (ICPS) Programme, a parliamentary committee has said, terming the findings as "surprising".

The parliamentary standing committee on human resource development in its report said: "The committee is surprised to know that the ministry does not have any database on the street children in the country, the target group of the ICPS while analysing the scheme."

The ICPS aims at providing shelter, nutrition, health care, education and recreation facilities to street children and seeks to protect them against abuse and exploitation.

The panel in its report suggested that the ministry start preparing a data base detailing the number of children on the streets and those benefiting from this scheme.

Expressing displeasure over the lack of basic infrastructure in the centres and effectiveness in the new scheme, the committee pointed out that despite 90 per cent of the financial assistance for the scheme being provided by the Central government, there seems to be lack of initiative for encouraging state governments and involving more NGOs for opening up centres for street children. (PTI)

A glimpse at life on the streets in India

Children scour the Delhi railway station for empty bottles and scrap metal that they sell to junk dealers. 

Just the facts 
To book a Salaam Balaak Trust walking tour in Old Delhi, phone 9873130383 (Shekhar) or 9810975284 (Javed) Or email Tours are given daily and cost 200 rupees ($5) per person. For more information, go to

Shekhar left home when he was 12 years old and came to Delhi where he joined other kids living in the city’s old railway station. Now he works for a trust that gives tourists insight into their daily struggles

Apr 26, 2008 04:30 AM

Special to the Star

DELHI, INDIA –He is an unlikely tour guide – skinny, enthusiastic, with a wide grin revealing perfect teeth. Shekhar Saini is just 19 years old.

He’s standing in front of the reservations office just outside the enormous, grimy railway station in Old Delhi – home to about 150 ragged, barefoot street children, some as young as 6.

In a country known for its many beautiful sights, Shekhar is here to show us something different – one of the sore spots off the usual tourist trail.

We had reached him on his cellphone the day before to book our tour of one of Old Delhi’s grittiest neighbourhoods, as street children experience it.

It’s a place he knows first-hand. Shekhar was born in Bihar, the poorest of India’s 28 states, and ran away at age 12, jumping on a train and eluding ticket takers all the way to Delhi.

"Basically, most of the children run away from the country because of poverty; they know they are a burden to their families," he says.

He quickly found that the children look out for one another.

"When I got here, I met another rag picker and he said `Are you hungry?’ and he took me to the Sisganj Gurdwara (Sikh temple) for a free meal," Shekhar recalls.

These children, it turns out, are not an anomaly, but integrated into the city’s economy.

They are not beggars – they work sweeping the train cars and collecting any leftover food. First-class trains are particularly good.

"My friend got into a car with a wedding party and got two pieces of chicken," he says.

From a bridge between the platforms, he points out some boys jumping between the tracks, collecting empty plastic water bottles, which fetch half a rupee each.

They make, he says, 60 to 70 rupees a day or about $2.

In a nook below the overpass, a child is sleeping under a piece of cardboard.

We walk past a juice seller who lets children sleep on top of his booth, and acts as a banker, keeping their scant rupees safe from theft.

Another shop on the platform is Chemist Corner, where sick children go to buy herbal medicines.

"Street children are crazy about Bollywood movies," says Shekhar. "Some will hop the train to Mumbai to see a premiere. They play hide and seek with the railway police; if they are caught they get badly beaten."

Shekhar was on the street until he was rescued by the Salaam Balaak Trust, a charity founded in 1988 by the Indian film director Mira Nair, best known for Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake.

Nair was a sociologist and documentarian until she made her first story film, Salaam Bombay, a moving portrayal of Bombay’s street children inspired by Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.

Nair used some of the proceeds from that film to set up the trust, which aims to give back to street children some semblance of their lost childhood. They are rarely willing to go back to their families but they can be protected from pimps and criminals and trained to do better paying work than picking up empty bottles.

Shakhar trained as a guide and is one of the trust’s success stories. He learned his excellent English from foreign volunteers at the Salaam Balaak shelter.

From the station we walk along a narrow alley where Shakhar points out the dusty shops of junk dealers who buy the scrap metal, glass and plastic containers that the street children scavenge.

Enormous transparent bags filled with empty water bottles are piled on the roof until they are picked up for recycling. Delhi has no municipal recycling program or even general garbage pickup, so rag pickers – both children and adults – play a useful role.

Shekhar knows everybody in this gritty neighbourhood and introduces his Canadian visitors with a flourish. We pass a tiny shop advertising a cold shower for 10 rupees, a hot shower for 15 rupees. There are some 300 cheap hotels and flophouses in the area, most without bathing facilities, he explains.

We nearly trip over a potter crouched on the sidewalk, rapidly turning hundreds of small clay cups on his wheel.

The cups are sold in the nearby pottery market to owners of chai (tea) shops and broken after a single use. This is necessary not only because dishwashing is not an option in such sidewalk operations but because of the caste system. Most Indians will not drink out of vessels that may have previously been used by a low caste or Dalit (Untouchable) customer.

The area is pulsi
ng with energy. Everyone is busy. As we walk towards the Salaam Balaak shelter, we pass many other traditional businesses and craftspeople including a dyer, a wicker worker, tailoring shops and people ironing clothing right on the street with heavy manual irons heated by hot charcoal inside.

A video game arcade on our left has a large clientele of street children.

When we finally reach the shelter on the upper floor of a narrow old house, we see some 60 boys in two large rooms milling about, playing, watching TV or napping (there is a separate shelter for girls.) Another room is set up with benches as a classroom. A sign proclaims that the shelter receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Salaam Balaak Trust also runs children’s shelters in Mumbai.

One little boy of about 7, a recent arrival who appears to be mute, wants a hug. He clings to me in a way that breaks my heart.

On the wall, there are pictures of the former street children playing soccer and going on excursions.

Mira Nair appears in some of the photos, an improbably glamorous figure.

Shekhar now has his own tiny apartment. He has been guiding for a year but his dream is to be a Bollywood star.

"I have already been in a 23-minute short," he says proudly. "I played a gang leader. Mira Nair invited me to the premiere of The Namesake but I didn’t see the film. I had to stay outside with the collection box."

Judy Stoffman is a Toronto-based freelance writer.