The problem of Street Children in Chennai city was identified as a growing problem in 1996 in a city-wide survey conducted by the Madras NGO Forum for Street Children through the financial assistance of UNICEF, Chennai. Karunalaya was an active partner in this exercise. The study highlighted the fact that there was an estimated 75000 street children are in Chennai city at the time. The survey also identified North Chennai as the most vulnerable area for street children with an estimate incidence of nearly 54%. Coupled with this major problem in North Chennai was the presence of a large number of slums and a high crime rate along with an alarming increase of issues such as child labour, delinquency, abuse, exploitation, running away, broken home, illiteracy, alcoholism, drugs, illicit liquor, prostitution etc are horrendous.
As a follow-up to the study, the Government of Tamil Nadu provided a grant of Rs.65000/- per year to Karunalaya for providing a night shelter to street children. Karunalaya gained strength in the work with Street Children through the support and partnership with Andheri Hilfe, Bonn, Germany since 1999 for the rehabilitation of street children and further the program was strengthened in 2003 for the Prevention, Rescue and Rehabilitation of street children in a more holistic package.
Who are Street Children ?
Street Children are those who work and live on the streets, parks, pavements, bus stations, railway stations and public places having the sky as their roof without safety and security and who are below the age of 18 years.
They can be classified into three categories;
1. Children of the street; those children who consider the street as their home and place of work, eat, sleep and make friends. They are the abandoned children or children who have run away from home because of abuse, violence, poverty or peer pressure.
2. Children on the street; those children who work and live on the street, but occasionally contact their families or relations. They mostly belong to poor rural families or urban slums who have migrated in search of jobs either independently or with family or with peers. Some of these children are brought up by employers who throw them out of jobs after some time and the children continue to live on street.
3. Pavement dwellers; those children who work on the street, but usually maintain regular relations and live with their families.
SOME FACTS ABOUT STREET CHILDREN
1. The problem of Street Children in Chennai city has been on the rise during the last decade and an escalation of the situation has taken place in the recent times after the drought situation with runaway street children working and living on the streets without care and protection of the parents or the family.
2. A study conducted in 1996 identified as many as 75000 street children in Chennai city. But this number presently is not the same but possibilities and indications are to have increased.
3. Though efforts have been made to rehabilitate street children, prevention of children running away from home and becoming street children, and the larger issue of children living on the pavements with families are yet to be addressed and child friendly solutions taken.
4. As a result these children are still shunned and viewed as social outcast, labeled and condemned by the unconscious civil society. Atrocities against these children rampantly executed, abused and victimized.
5. Unknown number of children are allured, abducted, raped, trafficked, tortured, exploited, and some are even eliminated.
6. India entered into globalisation, which provides scope only for the fittest to survive; hence the disadvantaged are forced to take means below human dignity to survive. Then convicted and condemned in the society as outcast which results in children hating the society and turn hostile to the system.
7. The after math of this is the, alcoholism, drugs, anti social activities and resorting to sex work towards perpetual victimization. Thus the society continues to turn a blind eye on the plight of these children – our future generation.
PLIGHT OF STREET CHILDREN
Street Children is a special category with specific problems different from other children. Some of their plights on the streets are;
1. They Struggle for daily survival
2. They have no one to look after their needs
3. Since they are on the street they have to fend for themselves
4. The street quickly eliminates childhood and the child turns into a youth
5. Then the child has to cope with the problems and the stress of the adult world
6. To survive they need to work
7. They are unskilled and lack necessary education for any option
8. So most of them do odd jobs like;
- Rag Picking
- Shoe shining
- Unauthorized porter in hotels and tea shops
- Some are also pimping
Their employer often exploit them and pay no wages or very low wages. Most economic activities of street children are controlled by territories and when threatened are reacts violently.
The competition is ruthless and only the fittest survive.
Hence they are abused and neglected from our mainstream society. They undergo abuse right throughout their life. For some the abuse starts at home which pushes them to the streets and some of them experience the nightmare on the first day of life on the streets. From then on for these children nightmare in their life is some thing normal and start to live with it.
It will be alarming to know that these children who are shunned by the society are living in dangerous circumstances morally, socially, economically and physically. Being children they are forced to sexual exploitation, abuse and without knowing the reality they are silent suffers of atrocities against them. No one is on their side to stop or to oppose the atrocities. Mostly they are over powered due to their physical incapability, lack of support and stigmatised situation.
Street Children are abused physically, emotionally, sexually and neglected.
Due to the nature of their livelihood and living patterns, these children suffer from skin ailments, bacterial and parasitic infections as cholera, typhoid, gastro-enteritis, amoebic dysentery, tetanus, T.B. sores, rickets and mainly scabies. They are now identified as most vulnerable for STD, HIV/AIDS.
These children neglect their health due to traditional biases and financial constraints. Although there are government hospitals, they do not use the facilities. Through experience they know that they are not cared for there, the procedures to procure the slightest of first aid is very cumber some and the officials ignore these children. The lack of health information and education further compounds the problem.