How do you define a street child … ? Well, a street child is the one for whom sky is the roof and the earth is the bed. Streets are their unoccupied dwellings, devoid of the cosy walls of a house. Streets are rather their habitual abode which also serves as a source of livelihood to many. It is a freedom forced on them by the undefined moves of their destiny even if they keep craving for perpetual parental protection and elderly supervision.
They seem to be omnipresent. A common sight on the streets, temples, railway platforms, cinema halls, however, no accurate data of these wanderers is available. But according to rough figures, these small victims of fate could be around 4-8 lakh in the country. Annuallly, some 80,000 children run away from their homes to land on railway stations. Poverty, family conflict, the responsibility to feed the family and many such reasons drive them out leaving behind everything, including the innocence of their childhood. They also have normal wishes. They also want to play, study and enjoy life like any other child of their age but life scripts a different story for them. As per the figures, majority of street children in India are boys with little or no education.
Do child rights activists need to step out of the boxes of ‘development’, ‘survival’, ‘protection’ and ‘participation’ into which they have confined these children of lesser fate? Do we need to interrogate child rights programmes and the somewhat limited notions of childhood around which these programmes formulate? Cinema, one the strongest modes of communication, too, unfortunately, focuses on cute voices of conscience with very few genuine roles written for children as persons. They are rather portrayed as instruments in the unification of the male and female heroes.
Coverage in newspapers invariably focuses on stories of child rights being violated in one way or the other — children dying of malnourishment, run over by vehicles, neglected by parents, committing suicide or forced into various crimes.
Of late, with the focus on the Right to Education Act, 2010, it often seems as though childhood and the rights of children are determined by the schooling system. So what does childhood in India mean? And how do we perceive it?
I, as a journalist, wish to run a campaign focussing on plight of these children through the eye of camera by budding scribes and students of photography. Perhaps it would be one little step towards the cause of the children who stand in the open to brave the blows of life.
Prof (Dr) Sanjay M Johri