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Street children are being denied an education

February 15, 2007

Look at this face carefully. It is the happy face of a girl begging near the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai. Grinning and giggling she tapped on the window of our car and asked for alms. She has no idea what it means to be out of school. Her mother does neither. She is a little distance away watching her daughter as she goes from car to car. How do I know this is her mother? Because the girl emerged from there. From a shanty.

Here is another kid. Right outside MacDonalds. He was peeking in trying to see if we had anything to eat. Finally we gave him some sweets I had in my purse. I always thought that beggars were those who were homeless – but these are not beggars. They are working children.

These children work on the streets everyday and their number is increasing. I never saw these many beggars when I was growing up and as a country we were less affluent then. Maybe it is the population. But now the street kids are everywhere, outside restaurants, outside malls and at traffic signals. Either begging or selling stuff ranging from books, flowers, toys to newspapers. They clean cars and offer you roses.

This boy was at a busy traffic signal. If they are selling flowers I buy from them at times, but in my heart I feel angry with the parents for allowing this. At times I have seen that the parents are fit and fine and are simply using their kids. Take a look at this little car-cleaner:

I asked him where his parents were and he said at home. What did they do? His father was always drunk he admitted. His mother? She was at home he repeated. No she was not sick. But she did not earn any money. Well, that didn’t surprise me. Of late there have been a series of articles in the Times of India about children who beg and work on the street. The article said that these children are being forced to work by their parents. An excerpt:

Increasingly children are being pushed by parents keen to supplement their marginal incomes. More than two-thirds take to begging while the rest hawk goods or shine shoes on trains.

According to this report, recently a group of 231 kids were rescued from the streets and sent to childrens’ homes. In a lot of these cases the parents when questioned insisted that the children were simply providing the money because the families needed it. However the children told a different story! Another excerpt:

Almost all the children found begging had able-bodied parents who did little work because the child brought home enough money by begging.

Reading this was upsetting. This was child abuse! I knew that the street children were not always homeless, but simply poor like the majority of our citizens. But being forced to work?

Well, their parents are unemployed. As the article explanined they send their kids to beg because they know that children earn more money by begging as people do not like to give alms to healthy adults. Also, people look more kindly on child street hawkers, and as a result the kids earn more money.

Also there is no getting away from the fact that a certain section of society will always be unproductive. All countries have their share of unproductive people, tramps and the homeless. Perhaps these families who send their children to earn money for them fall into this category of unproductive people?? Well, a few probably do. For the rest, there is no work available.

Its a complex issue because on one hand there is a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour (cooks, household help, cleaners, drivers etc) in many areas in Mumbai and on the other hand there are hundreds of able-bodied adults who are unemployed. They send their children to roam the streets thereby depriving them of an education. Yet if a family wants a cook or live in help they will not hire someone from the streets.

What the rural poor who come in droves into the city need is proper training. Ofcourse many organisations are doing it already…TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) for example. There are also many NGO’s who run vocational training centres (to teach sewing for example) for the poor. But are these training programmes addressing a real need? That is the question. There is no dearth of tailors in the city, there is no dearth of people making handicrafts either and these are usually the skills that are taught.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2007 5:05 pm

    Nita- this is a terrible situation, very heart-rending and as you say obviously a major problem with complex causes. Is there legislation in India to enforce the attendance of children in schools – their right to a basic education? Do any of these fresh-faced children have minimal educational experiences?
    As you point out in your last paragraph, much of training of the unemployed poor is in the service and domestic service sectors – that is the case here in Canada also, but there are programs here for the underemployed as well which seek to equip people with some saleable skills beyond basic service skills.
    One question for you – are the rural poor who come into the cities landless and unable to eke out a living in their villages?

  2. February 15, 2007 5:54 pm

    No, children cannot be forced by law to go to school. However a lot of incentives are given like free meals. Education is a state subject and every state has various programmes to encourage school attendance. In Maharashtra education for all girls is free up to the 10th grade. Even books are given free. Inspite of that some parents do not send their kids to school. Poor children in urban areas however do go to school though many drop out by the seventh or eighth standards (many reasons for that!)
    Children who migrate from rural areas might have gone to school if their village is not too isolated. There are schools in rural areas, though every village might not have one. And yes they are landless and desperate. They often starve. There is hunger, and malnutrition and that is why they come to the city.
    Actually, statistics say that the majority of the migrants come from other poorer states and some come from another country, BanglaDesh. There is a big problem in Mumbai of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. We have many illegal migrants from Nepal too but they mostly go to Delhi but they usually do not settle on the streets. They take jobs as security men or household help.
    Maharashtra, where Mumbai is, is one of the most developed states of the country and though we do have immigrants from our rural ares, they are fewer as compared to those from UP and Bihar. Bihar is the poorest state in India. There are politicians here in Maharashtra who make a big hue and cry about this influx of outsiders but the fact is that we are one country. We cannot stop anyone coming, and nor should we. However every city has a limited infrastructure and it is unfair to the existing citizens if an unlimited number of people are allowed to enter and settle anywhere they like. It is indeed a very sad situation and the only answer to this problem is that all the states in India pull up their socks.

  3. Soham Roy permalink
    March 31, 2007 2:27 am

    In India (and probably many other cultures) children are seen as insurance policies. Hence the rush to get married early and have children so that they can be made to work and support the family. The parents who force the children to work have no shame because they are uneducated and have themselves done that for 12-15 years. So they think it is normal.

    This can change only of Indian society wants to change. Be tough. Don’t give any money or food to those innocent kids. It may be heart wrenching but it is the right thing. Everytime someone has a pang to help, go and donate to a reputed NGO.

    And don’t employ kids in shops and factories.

    This will force the parents to work and not produce more children.


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