India File

‘Why do I need school?’

Preeti Mehra | Updated on March 10, 2018

Future chained: Poverty and large families to feed force children out of schools to the streets   -  BL BUSINESS LINE /

Busy feeding themselves and their families, these children in Delhi have lost their childhood

“Why didn't they (the policy makers) ask us, after all we are the ones who have lived on the streets and know what life is all about,” says 16-year-old Jyoti, now a reporter with Balaknama, the newspaper for street children in Delhi brought out by Child Enhancement through Training and Action (Chetna). “Where is the child's right to participate in making decisions?” Jyoti repeats the question when asked about the amendments that have been made to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

As someone who virtually lived off the streets since she was eight, Jyoti narrates her story. “I loved my father a lot, but he was ill and could not work. I would pick garbage the whole night to earn around ₹500. We children did everything to eke out a living including stealing and sniffing whitener,” she recalls. Otherwise used for erasing ink, whiteners are used as substances of abuse.

No choice

Jyoti talks about the hundreds of children working in the Capital. “In the furniture market in Kirti Nagar, little ones carry heavy pieces of wood on their shoulder. Is that not hazardous?

“Under the flyovers dozens of children live and work from early morning to late at night. They are beaten up by the police and by those who ostensibly are their ' chachas' or ' mamas' (paternal and maternal uncles). Who is there to ask them how they are related?”

Also Chetna's Zila South Delhi Secretary, Jyoti says that it was only after she came in touch with the organisation did she start studying. “I wanted to be a dancer, and that's what kept me going.”

Balaknama focuses on the problems and vulnerabilities faced by children roaming and begging on the streets.

In another part of the city, 11-year-old Santosh stares expressionlessly when asked about school. Keep coaxing and the story spills out. “No time,” he says as a matter of fact. Shashi Arora from Pahel, a NGO, has been trying to get Santosh into school for years. He nods sadly.

Santosh’s mother remains ill, his step-father is out of work and as a result inebriated most of time. The family, including four siblings aged one, five, six and seven, need an income. This is what Santosh provides even as they eke out a living in a ramshackle hut situated cheek and jowl to a massive garbage dump across Kallibasti in the Badli Industrial area of Delhi.

Santosh works from dawn to dusk at an 'uncle's' nursery, earning ₹300 per day.

“I go with him to sell the saplings that we grow and I mostly eat with him too,” says the lad.

I used to go to school till Class 2 when we were in the village, says 12-year-old Sanjiv, a fruit seller in Badli whose body language is more of an adult than a child.

“I go to the mandi (market) with my father and sometimes by myself in the local train. I earn over ₹1,000 and take care of my two brothers and two sisters. Why do I need school now?”

Published on September 26, 2016

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