Street children are those living on the streets for which it is the whole world. Some live with their families while some live in groups without being in contact with their families. There are children who are orphans, refugees, and runaways. They are often found at the temples, market places, railway station, side-walks, under the flyover or bridges. Paradoxically, they must be the most visible children but yet are invisible and hidden from the government surveys. There are several causes of these children landing n streets like poverty, family fights and disintegration, desire to stay in city etc. due to lack of shelter, they are prone to abuse and exploitation. India is estimated to have 314,700 street children in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Kanpur, Bangalore and Hyderabad and around 100,000 street children in Delhi. The statistics available is under drastic under estimation. They are victims of harassment by the municipal bodies, police who in response to “cleaning up the city” either murder them or drive them out of the city. To our utter dismay this does not come as a surprise to us that they are found venturing into gambling, alcohol, petty thefts, drug addicts, prostitute’s. Besides being exposed to unhygienic conditions, health hazards, environmental conditions, they are employed as rag pickers, hawkers, waiters, domestic help and shoeshine boys with working hours ranging from 10-13 hours. Despite a raft of provisions for protection and finding the children, thousands of them are sold into slavery, trafficked and as child labor which is banned. Even when the police raids they are still trapped for years because the culprit escapes paying some tip-off to the cops.
The street children are emotionally scared and traumatized blaming themselves for their conditions. They even refuse to speak for months. They are denied education and training, which is a way to escape poverty trap, but they are subjected to street vending, collecting firewood, dyeing. Gender discrimination is often evident in Indian society. Females are underfed and neglected. Child marriage and pregnancy at a less age results in poor health and death. These street children are exposed to poor reproductive health causing infertility. This causes imbalance in the gender ratio. Homeless children have the odds stacked against them which include irregular food supply, lack of education and medical facilities. And without proper educations and skills, they cannot rise from the bottom of the economic heap. This will only result in our country lagging in the global race for sustainable development.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989) outlines the responsibilities of the government to protect the street children as other children. The right to education and information, right to non-discrimination, right to health, right to privacy, right to liberty, right to education and work, right to marry and have a family, right to social security, assistance and welfare, right to freedom of movement, right to seek and enjoy asylum. The Constitution of India protects these street children under Article 14-all children in similar circumstances are required to be treated in a similar manner, and if not so treated, such treatment can be challenged on the ground of discrimination and arbitrariness. Article 15(3): Permits the State to make special provisions for women and children. Article 19(1): Guarantees citizens of India the right to freedom of speech and expression, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, etc. Under Indian law, child labor is prohibited only in factories, mines or other hazardous employment; therefore there is no blanket ban on employment of children. Though children form part of the labor force they are not permitted to unionize and fight for their rights as workers. Several other Articles are 21, 22, 23, 24, 39 (e) & (f), 41, 45, 47, 51(c). The right to education for children is a fundamental right which has been emphasized by the Apex Court in the judgment of Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh.
The Juvenile Justice [Care and Protection of Children] Act 2000, was enacted for juveniles in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. This act is in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Observation Homes, Special Homes and Children’s Homes provide the children with the facilities of care, treatment, education, training, development and rehabilitation. These are maintained by the State Government’s or recognized NGO’s. Under the IPC, Section 82, 83, 89, 361, 363, 369, 363A, 366A, 372, 373 are meant for the protection of children. The Child Labor [Prohibition and Regulation] Act 1986 was enacted to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments, and to regulate their conditions of work. It is based on Article 24 under which no child below the age of 14 years is to be employed in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. [M. C. Mehta vs. Union of India]. The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 1976 was enacted to provide for the abolition of the bonded labor system with a view to prevent the economic and physical exploitation of the weaker sections of the people. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 prohibits trafficking of human beings. Under this Act, where the person rescued is a child or minor, the Magistrate may direct the placement of the child or minor in an institution established or recognized under the Juvenile Justice [Care and Protection of Children] Act. Some other acts protecting the children are Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Right of Children to free and compulsory education Act, 2009. Several schemes of Ministry of Women and Child Development including “An Integrated Programme for Street Children” in 2007 highlighted the reasons for non-implementation. As a result, it launched another scheme called “Integrated Child Protection Scheme”. Its task is to provide children with protection and safety in the environment to develop and flourish.
By: Snigdha Panigrahi, Student Reporter, INBA