Despite Delhi being the Capital and one of the most developed States in India, the indicators for children show that their situation is grave

“My life is worse than that of a dog. A dog at least gets to eat every day,” says young Ayan Khan (claims to be 18-year-old but looks just over 13), who is among the several lakh faceless children living on Delhi streets.

Ayan, who currently lives with a group of young boys in Central Delhi and works at a tea stall, had crossed into India from Bangladesh with his parents and nine siblings. “Even with my parents (who live/work in Uttar Pradesh) I never had enough to eat. So one day I ran away and landed in Delhi to earn a good living. I now don’t know how to go back home. Maybe my mother thinks about me sometimes,” says Ayan.

Ayan, however, is not alone. Beaten, abused, malnourished and without any access to education, health facilities or legal protection the children living on the streets of the Capital turn into just figures making Delhi the city with the highest crime rate against children (19.8 per cent as per National Crime Records Bureau, 2010). Street children below 18 years constitute one per cent of the national Capital’s total children. Among them one in five is a rag picker who leads a very vulnerable life. Several others become part of gangs that use children for begging or are herded into prostitution. Worse they are pushed into organ trade, lured into illegal adoption network used as couriers for illegal trade by gangs and used for petty crime.

“Street children are the most vulnerable to all forms of exploitation. What adds to their vulnerability is the fact that even within the city they are often dislocated. They often have no record of their birth, death or status as an individual. And since they don’t vote and are in an unorganised sector they slip down to being nobodies for the politician. Despite various Government schemes and work by non-government organisations for Delhi’s street children, we haven’t been able to streamline efforts in an effective manner,” said Sanjay Gupta of non-government organisation Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA).

“Despite Delhi being the Capital and one of the most developed States in India, the indicators for children show that their situation is grave. Nearly half (47 per cent) of the urban poor population in Delhi are under 15 (according to State of Urban Health Delhi Report). Central Delhi has the highest percentage of child labour followed by North, West, South, North-West, South-West, North-East and New Delhi (according to Census 2001),” said Bharti Ali of non-government organisation HAQ: Centre for Child Rights.

The fact that children are low on priority can also been seen in the shrinking Delhi budget for them. “Children have been allocated 17.96 per cent of the total State budget this year (2012-13). But what is a matter of concern is that the share for children in the Delhi budget has gone down from 19.03 per cent in the previous year. Also it is hard to explain the reduced share of allocation from the Centre for the flagship Integrated Child Protection Scheme, which is meant to be the most comprehensive protection initiative of the Government, just when the implementation of the scheme has begun. Health and education has seen an increase in budget which is welcome,” said HAQ co-director Enakshi Ganguly Thukral.

Without support, street children fall prey to substance and physical abuse and are almost never able to get timely or adequate medical assistance. “Health remains one of the major casualties among children living on the streets. More than four out of five children (82.7 per cent) in urban poor habitations of Delhi suffer from anaemia. Only 20.8 per cent urban poor children aged 20-35 months had received at least one dose of vitamin A as against the urban average of 32.1 per cent. Forty seven per cent urban poor children under three years of age were found to be stunted and only one out of four urban poor neonates is breastfed within one hour of birth,” revealed figures from Child Rights and You (CRY).

Doctors working with street children tell horror stories of abuse. “Abuse is rampant and sometimes the degree of it shocks grown-ups. Besides malnourishment, substance and physical abuse of these small children, what is most worrying is their mental abuse. There is no system within the existing government policies to look into the mental health of these groups of children. Most children display symptoms of depression and other behavioural problems which in the long run does not allow them to grow in an all round manner and are often maladjusted in the society,” said Dr. Anil Bansal from the Indian Medical Association.

More In: Delhi