'O Sweet Child of Mine'- the plight of the 3 million street children in India.
When Shekhar, 12, a child on the street was found in Bangalore railway station three months ago by BOSCO he told them he wanted to go find his family. He got lost when he was just 5 in the same railway station. On that fateful day his parents had been with him, they had come all the way from his village in Shimoga district of Karnataka to go to another place beyond Bangalore to attend a family wedding. They had told Shekhar to sit in the compartment while they got down to get some eatables. The train had started; he still recalls standing at the door of the train and looking out for his parents. In the last moment out of fear of never finding them if he continued sitting in the train Shekhar had plunged from a running train. He had waited for his parents on the platform. He still does.
When BOSCO found him, he told what little he knew about his village and also that he had an elder brother who worked in Pandavapura near Mandiya district. In just 24 hours the team reached his parents only to be told that Shekhar hadn’t got lost as he believed, he had been deserted!!! They didn’t want him then, they didn’t want him now. Think about the disillusionment of the boy. All this time he thought he had a family who loved him and could be out there looking for him, only to learn that all the pining all these years had only been his. Produced in front of the Child Welfare Committee under the Ministry of Women and Child Development on the failure to reunite Shekhar to his family, it was decided that he will be categorized as a street child from now on, children who have no family of their own, and will be assigned to the care of the State Children’s Home, the Bala Kana Bala Mandira till the time he finishes school and can stand on his own feet.
This is the story of those small people on the street you see, dirty, unkempt, unhealthy, with hollowness in their eyes you can’t quiet understand. On conversation with the grass root workers who actually rescue and rehabilitate them, I learn that these children are deserted by parents and families at birth or later due to monetary constraints or gender discrimination; or they are runaways who fled from a home where there was violence against the mother due to drunkenness of the father, remarriage of the mother to the man she now lived with or other domestic strife. A sense of guilt or perhaps the need to escape from the conditions at home sometimes lead children to leave their home. Deserted or run away, both ways, life for these children is worse on the streets than it would have been with their parents.
No matter what the reason is behind their landing in such a situation, I just wonder how it would be for a mother to learn of her child going about in the traffic, in the scorching heat of the after noon sun, empty stomach, without water and exposed to danger. And I’d choose to die before I see that day. In this light I deem these children so very unfortunate. What is more unfortunate than not have a guardian.
I think the government of India should innovate and come up with provisions for poor people who are unable to look after their children. In an advanced country like UK, the state takes the custody of a child temporarily if the parents are unable to look after the health of the child. There are care centers for these children where their nutrition is ensured. The parents get the custody of the child after they prove or commit to look after their children. For a country that has looked into such minute aspects of child care, can you think about what provisions it must have to cater to other aspects of a child’ welfare. I think the government of India seriously needs ideas and I urge all the NGOs and CBOs working in this area to strengthen their advocacy programs just to ensure the welfare of children- there should have been no need to desert children if there had been a government program to support these families; these children wouldn’t have to flee from their homes.
It’s difficult to identify with dirty looking children, unknown to you and with whom you just cannot relate so it’s understandable when you don’t really feel for them let alone contribute your empathy to their cause. Trust me, I know how it is. But if you are a mom, and you have a 5 year old son who is the centre of your universe for just a moment think due to a twist of faith, he was to get lost one day and no amount of search yields you information about his whereabouts, how will each night be, how will each meal time be, how will each bed time be when you will wonder if your son has had a mouthful to eat, if your son has a shelter, if his small body has a blanket to protect him from the cold and you shudder to think about the big bad world out there.
I wish each mother came forward to support this cause to rehabilitate children on the street, I wish they marched along with organizations like BOSCO, APSA, ECHO, REDS, Paraspara and others, to help provide for them for a better education and other needs. I wish we begin to see in these nameless faces our own children. I wish we did our part to help these motherless children to go on ahead and one day equipped with education become parents themselves and find the joy of a family once again.
I thank BOSCO Mane Bangalore to have shown me this world. I wish them all the luck and support in their mission to rescue street children and reunite them to their families.
~The writer is a humanitarian having worked with the United Nations Organization.