On Bangalore’s bustling M.G. Road, located in the heart of the city, Raghu swiftly crosses from one corner of the road to another as he tries hard to sell magazines and newspapers to motorists and pedestrians during regular traffic jams on Saturday.
Ask the 13-year-old how he’s going to spend Children’s Day, celebrated across the country on Saturday, Raghu, a native of Gaya from Bihar, who has literally made Bangalore streets his home, smiles with buried sorrows.
“What’s Children’s Day? It’s just another day of work for me. If I don’t sell magazines and newspapers, I won’t be able to have my day’s meals,” Raghu, who came to Bangalore after he left his home in Gaya three years back, told IANS.
“I learnt about Children’s Day some years back. Every year Nov 14 - marking the birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru - is celebrated as Children’s Day. But, for poor children like me, we have nothing to celebrate,” he added.
Not far from Raghu, nine-year-old Kamala begs on Brigade Road, the city’s favourite shopping destination.
“I am a beggar. Begging is my job. I beg everyday on Brigade Road. Sorry! I have no idea about Children’s Day,” smiles Kamala, as she quickly joins a group of five child beggars on the road.
Kamala’s 10-year-old friend Lakshmi too is oblivious about the ‘special’ day dedicated to children across the country.
“I don’t know anything about Children’s Day,” says the shy girl with a begging bowl in her hands.
According to experts working in the field of child rights, in recent times the number of street children in Bangalore has increased manifold.
“The exact figure or percentage of street children in Bangalore is hard to provide as the number fluctuates. But due to the increase in the gap between rich and poor in the city, we can easily say that the numbers have increased hugely in recent times,” said Vishal Talreja, founder member of Bangalore’s Dream A Dream, an organisation working for underprivileged children.
“Most of the street children are either engaged in begging, rag picking or selling newspapers and petty goods on the roads. Street children of Bangalore form the major chunk of child labourers in the city,” added Talreja.
“It’s sad that in spite of so many laws drafted by the government to help underprivileged children from not falling prey to child labour, yet a large number of them are bereft of normal childhood and are forced to work to earn their livelihood,” said V. Susheela, convener of Karnataka chapter of Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), a nationwide network to eliminate child labour.
According to Census 2001, there were 12.7 million working children in India (age group five to 14 years), with the state of Uttar Pradesh recording the highest numbers at 1.93 million, closely followed by Andhra Pradesh at 1.36 million. Karnataka has recorded 0.82 million child labourers, making it the seventh highest state with child labourers - following Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
However, child rights’ activists say India currently has around 50 million child labourers.