After attaching the engine to an empty train, the driver came down to see whether everything is okay. Seeing the driver away from the engine, one young boy, the hero of our discussion, took the role of the driver. We do not know what the boy did there, but we do know that the train started to move. In fact it started to move at 120 km. speed, and this young boy had absolutely no idea about his journey. Finally, the operator stopped the train after safely moving it to a dead end. But the journey already covered 150kms and costed one life. This young boy, the street child, claimed innocent before the police.
India’s population is ever on the rise, and very soon will be the most populated country in the World. Street children are found in almost all countries, and India is no exception. Because of its large population, the number of street children in India is also large. There are number of organisations that are catering to the needs of these children, but still they are like a drop of water in the ocean.
Vijayawada is a small city, located on the banks of Krishna River, in Andhra Pradesh, a southern state of India. It is reported that there are nearly 10000 street children in and around the city. The average age of these children is about 10, and of them more than 80% are boys. These children are on the streets either because they have been literally abandoned by their parents/relatives, found themselves on the street from the beginning because of family problems, or have chosen to leave home due to some form of continuous abuse.
Even though a few street children find themselves some form of work, they may not be steady and lose jobs regularly. The most common job among these children is ragpicking; picking up used paper and plastic from the dump yards that are very often unhygienic places. According to a study, about 39% of these working children are paid inadequately, and about 34% complain of being forced to overwork. Most of these children are forced into bonded work that they are unable to escape from, due to cruel employers.
The health condition of street children is normally poor. Most of them suffer from chronic diseases like TB, leprosy, typhoid, malaria, jaundice and liver/kidney disorders. Venereal disease is widely found among older ones. Scabies, gangrene, broken limbs and epilepsy are very common. HIV & AIDS cases are now on the increase. Most of these children are exposed to dirt, smoke and other environmental hazards. They are very frequently exposed to intense sun, rain and cold. For them a house is a street, a bed is somewhere they can lay down, and food is something that fills their stomach. They give least priority to clothing, and bathing for them is a luxury.
Coming back to the street children in Vijayawada, the problem here is more intense. Of late most of the children are resorting to gang wars. These children are reported to be involved in several thefts in trains, and drug trafficking. They are used in drug trafficking by some antisocial elements in the city. Most of the children are themselves becoming drug edicts. Even at the tender age of 8-10, consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes is natural to them. It is very sad to know that a 14 years old boy died of AIDS recently on the platform of the city Railway Station.
The life of the street child is one of misery and agony. A home, a family, a father and a mother, a brother and a sister, is all a distant dream for him. On the other hand, the way he carries the ‘hurt’ in him, may be he doesn’t even expect all this. More than he being abandoned, he has now abandoned everybody. For him love is a mere four lettered word. Once I asked one such boy ‘how are you’. I wanted to start a conversation, and thought of making him my best friend. To my surprise, he answered in the most impolite way, “do your own business”. It took sometime for me to realise that there is nothing wrong with the boy, but with my question itself. Surely he cannot say, “I am fine, thankyou”.
Something has to be done to save these unfortunate children, afterall they are children, and like our own, they do have the right to better life. They may not wish for luxuries, but atleast they need a dignified life. They may not wish for riches, but atleast they need the most wanted love. These children needed to be reformed, and likeminded people should come forward for this good cause. And when I said reform, it is a process, infact a painstaking process. For those who wish to see these children reformed, there is definitely a sign of hope. A recent study shows that while about 45% of the street children would like to live in a secure place, more than 70% are very eager to change their present life. Over 60% of children have an ambition to do something meaningful in their future. These figures may not be meaningful unless we have commitment to this work. If we have the willingness, commitment and sincerity we can definitely see the results.
The life of the street child is very similar to the train journey I mentioned in the beginning. His life goes on, but sans any direction. He is innocent, empty and weak. But still he has to carry lot of burden. He begins the journey but do not know where to stop. He meets numerous accidents on the way, making him more astray. This journey needs to be stopped as early as possible. Something should be done and someone should do that. If this is not done, the journey meets the dead end, a sad end and there is nothing after that.