Street Children in India: A Non-Government Organization (NGO)-Based Intervention Model

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Editor's NoteThe award winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, has recently brought the world's attention to the plight of the street children of India. Although the film is ultimately a story of triumph and hope, the horrific aspects of life for children on the streets was conveyed vivdly. In this piece by Amit Sen, a prominent child psychiatrist working in Delhi with these children, we find a frontline portrait of the challenges he faces daily. He lays out the matter of street children broadly and then reframes this problem as a complex humanitarian emergency in order to understand the the extent and complexity of the issue. He outlines the international and national laws and policies that bear on this matter and what attempts are being made to address this by government and non-government agencies. He then describes his own clinical work, attempting to rehabilitate children so damaged by life on brutal streets and in miserable circumstances. The challenges he faces in the evolution of his program are similar to those all of us face in trying to effect change. We are proud to publish the story of this real life struggle from a colleague far away.Street children hold a mirror to India's paradoxes today. Touted to be one of the fastest growing economies, it is riddled with extremes of human living conditions. For first time visitors to Delhi or Mumbai, the hungry faces of children at traffic lights, ranging from infants latching on to precocious adolescent girls to desperate boys with scant regard for any danger, scampering around to sell their wares, can be a shocking sight. For the local resident, it is an everyday menace or irritant, and it is the norm for people to turn their heads away from the imploring eyes at their car window. Perhaps it is a defense against their own feelings, which can become overpowering for anyone who chooses to connect to the children's plight. But it is also symptomatic of the existing apathy and denial of this overwhelming reality.Scope of the ProblemThe United Nations Children's Fund, in the mid-1990s, estimated that there are at least 100 million street children in the world; the figure could only have gone up by now. They are mostly in the continents of Asia, Latin/South America, and Africa. Asia is estimated to have 25 million of them, out of which India is thought to have a whopping 18 million; it is the highest of all the countries. In Delhi alone there are >400,000 of them.The United Nations Children's Fund has classified them into 3 types: street-living children, children with street families, and street-working children. The street-working children spend most of their time on the streets but have families to go back to. They are often found selling their wares on the streets or traffic lights, working in shops and restaurants by the roadside, or involved in petty crime. Their families often reside in the slums or fringes of a burgeoning township, which may have a semblance of a community with its own set of tough ground rules. Relatively speaking, these groups of children are the least vulnerable and may have some of their basic needs met. The second type is those living with street families, families that do not have any fixed abode and are often found sleeping on sidewalks, under bridges/flyovers, on railway platforms, or in bus stops.

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