There are estimated to be 15 million Indian street children.
That’s 3 times the number of children in Australia.
According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 2005, an Indian child is more likely to be malnourished, have inadequate sanitation, not attend school, remain illiterate and marry underage, than is a child from any other global region.
Street children live in a cycle of poverty from which it is extremely difficult to escape. They are invariably malnourished, receive scant education and medical treatment, and are involved in child labour from an early age. Child prostitution and sexual abuse are also major problems, as is addiction to drugs. These children live in a different world from the emerging Indian middle class. If considered as a separate nation, they represent one of the neediest peoples on the planet.
More than half a million street children live in Jaipur, a prosperous jewellery and tourist district in the desert state of Rajasthan. Hundreds of thousands of destitute, runaway and orphaned children live hand-to-mouth. For them education is an unattainable luxury, or an irrelevance. They lose their childhoods and have little hope for a better future.
A B U S E
A large number of children in I-India’s shelter homes have suffered abuse. In addition to fulfilling the children’s physical needs, the vocational centres provide a safe, happy and nurturing environment where children receive psychological counselling and support and grow in confidence and self-esteem. Full time male and female counsellors are employed to foster the emotional recovery and development of abused children.
C H I L D L A B O U R
As of 2001, 12.6 million Indian children were engaged in hazardous occupations. Many street children are lured into bonded work or prostitution from which they are unable to escape. The most common work is rag-picking, in which boys and girls as young as six sift through garbage in order to collect recyclable materials.
I-India provides informal street schools to ensure that working children get at least a basic education. Vocational training is offered so older children can learn skills for safer and more dignified future employment and for which they receive payment for their work. Providing a safe place to learn and earn is a wonderful opportunity for these children and a positive alternative to working on the streets.
G E N D E R D I S C R I M I N A T I O N
Only 38% of Indian women are literate and, at 64%, the gender disparity between literacy rates amongst Indian women and men is one of the most unequal in the world. Child Marriage is also a serious issue in India, as it limits educational possibilities, stunts personal development, and carries dangerous health risks.
Leading by example, I-India promotes equality and opportunity for girls. More girls attend the street schools, vocational centres and live in the shelter homes. Many women are employed at all levels of the organisation, up to the founder, Abha Goswami.
H E A L T H
Street children live and work amidst rubbish, animals and open sewers. Not only are they exposed and susceptible to disease, they are also unlikely to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment. 90% of diseases are waterborne and therefore pose a great risk to street children who are unable to obtain clean water. Child labourers suffer from exhaustion, injury, exposure to dangerous chemicals, plus muscle and bone afflictions.
There is much ignorance about reproductive health and many girls suffer needlessly. A girl made infertile by an easily-preventable condition may not be able to marry and therefore be doomed to a life of even greater insecurity and material hardship. 5 million Indian adults suffer from HIV/AIDS. The rate amongst children is lower, however female street children are at particular risk due to high rates of prostitution.
I-India provides nutrition, medical treatment, plus hygiene and reproductive health education to 1250 children. An AIDS awareness program is run, targeting an additional 500 at-risk children. I-India’s “Shower Bus” regularly visits street points and offers on-the-spot showers and hygiene products to impoverished families. Nurses are employed to travel with the bus, and relationships with hospitals have been built so that street children may receive free treatment. I-India also provides education on tracking malnutrition to local staff in 233 village health centres, benefiting 33,000 rural children.
P O V E R T Y
The root causes of poverty are beyond a single NGO’s power to change, but I-India believes in the value of care and support at a personal level. Street schools provide some education, as does mainstreaming of children into government schools and offering scholarships to private schools. Vocational training centres are a powerful tool to assist youths to escape the poverty trap. At these centres they learn skills such as jewellery-making and tailoring which can prove more valuable to them than additional formal schooling. The income street children earn at the centres helps alleviate their poverty, and encourages the child and his/her parents to choose vocational training over child labour.