STREET KIDS OF INDIA: A GRAVE PERSPECTIVE

India, a developing nation with rapidly increasing economy, and growing technical advancements is an abode to 18 million street children, which is larger than anywhere in the world. Often, each of us experience and witness these poor kids lying on the sidelines and roads near railway stations in torn-out clothes, unpredictable about their future and education. Mostly, they are seen as ‘invisible’ and completely deprived of their rights. It is a very serious socio-legal issue with regard to development of a country, which comprises more than 1.3 billion people out of which half are the youth and adolescent population.

Having a closer look over the current scenario of street kids in India, a large part belongs to the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. It is concentrated on several factors such as child abuse, unstructured families, drug addiction, migration, political unrest and most importantly poverty.

  • The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India have said that Mumbai and Bangalore have the highest number of street children among the big cities of India.[1]
  • The study, ‘Situational Analysis of Street Children in Metro Cities’ estimated that Mumbai has around 1.25 lakh street children followed by Bangalore with 1.10 lakh.
    While Delhi (most in north Delhi; 55,000) stands at 1 lakh whereas an estimated 85,000 in Kolkata. [2]
  • A survey taken on major cities in India indicates that children suffer from chronic diseases and moderate health status. Also, almost 97% in Calcutta, 99% in Bangalore, and 90% in Madras reported having no access to toilet and bathing facilities.[3]

THE INTERNATIONAL DATA

There is a lot of information and data put together in the form of treaties, conventions, and international resolutions, mainly from the United Nations (UN). It is likely that the numbers are increasing with every next day, and the governments around the globe are not putting on much effort into this issue. These are some of the most paramount acknowledgements by powerful authorities on the suppression of rights of street kids are as follows:

General Comment 21 on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment 21 “provides authoritative guidance to States on developing comprehensive, long-term national strategies on children in street situations using a holistic, child rights approach and addressing both prevention and response in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” The convention highlights the basic and most intrinsic themes in the context of street population: child rights approach; civil rights and freedoms; family environment and alternative care; disability and health; education, leisure and cultural activities; and violence against children and special protection measures.[4]

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in 2002 stated that there are more than 100 million street children across the globe, although this statistics is fairly doubted by many agencies and NGO’s who are righteously contributing. A UNICEF study found that almost 40,000 children die every day in developing countries, 25% of whom are in India.

The general comment 21 was once again highlighted in the agenda for sustainable goals for the year 2030 as the secretary general’s report[5] on SDG’s in the year 2017, which ignored some major initiatives to be taken for the secluded children who mostly remain non-surveyed and less informative about their own existential value. It has been tried to fill this void at its best by introducing collection of reliable data in an inclusive way.

UN Convention on Rights of Child also called CRC/UNCRC[6] was adopted in 1989 on the anniversary of declaration of child of rights which is an international statement on social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights of children by the UN General Assembly. It is ratified by 196 countries to ensure the fulfillment of every child’s basic needs to meet their complete potential.  In addition to this, CRIN (Children’s Rights Information Network) established in 1983 also covers about the protection of special children who needs more attention than others due to their social and economic vulnerability.

OVERRIDING GROUNDS FOR A STREET CHILD TO WORK

According to WHO, ‘while some children are lured by the promise of excitement and freedom, the majority are pushed onto the street by desperation and realization that they have nowhere else to go.’[7] Some major push factors (that forces a population to leave) and pull factors (that attract a population to a new place) are mentioned here as:

DRUG-ABUSE/ADDICTION

A major force that pushes a little child into the street world is the use of harmful drugs and other agents of addiction. Mostly, small children from distorted families with wrecked relationships also get convinced by agents of criminal gang in big cities. They easily get exposed to dangerous elements by unknown strangers, and their intakes without any prior knowledge about the substance make innocent children easily fall into prey. In furtherance, the child gets forced in illegal activities such as forced labor and sexual exploitation by criminal gangs.

MIGRANT FAMILIES

Our nation faces a colossal challenge of migration every year, which displaces many families from their demographical homeland, which in turn results in major unemployment. In search of livelihood and earning money, many migrant families struggle to even afford basic amenities, due to which working for the younger population become a compulsion. Thus, children turn to juvenile crime.

LACK OF EDUCATION

Education is something which is a necessity in today’s world, and making it accessible for poor kids is already observed as a Herculean task by several governments. Right to education is a basic right entitled to every child below the age of 14 years, but as stated above also, the lives of street kids transforms into a horrific reality by indulging within fragile and vulnerable groups having delinquent connections.

POVERTY

The biggest factor that determines the status of street children in India is the extreme level of poverty faced by a huge portion of people in our nation. It has been noticed in the trend that most of the children that leaves or runaways from their house do it for strategic reasons, like in search for finding better living conditions and mental health. In return of this escape, the usual result is violence, separation from family members and slavery in its most cruel form.

THE STANDPOINT OF INDIAN LEGISLATIONS

The key to development of any country requires a healthy youth. But the void automatically appears at the stage, where a specific community lags behind. It should be ensured that every child gets to live a normal life without any inhumane intervention from the surrounding. Although there is a plethora of constitutional provisions and legal safeguards with respect to protect children against exploitation, abuse and harassment, implementation is still a bigger fish. Social and economic rights as declared by the Directive Principles of State Policy in article 37[8] states “DPSP shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country, and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws.”[9] i.e, states have the flexibility to pass directives and orders for rights inclusive of children, with special attention and uplifting of street kids in the society. Although there has been a lot of contention between fundamental rights and DPSP’s they both maintain an equal relevance in the legal mandate.

86th constitutional amendment of the year 2002 guaranteed ‘right to education’ as a fundamental right in part iii, and the same also inserted ‘Article 21A[10]’. This particular landmark modification made free and mandatory elementary education for the children between age groups of 6-14. Other definitive provisions specifically aimed at children are

  • Article 24[11]: Right to protect by prohibiting any child from working in any hazardous employment like industries, factories and mines till the age of 14 years.
  • Article 45[12]: The state shall endeavor to provide the right to free education, nourishment and care until a child complete the age of 6 years.
  • Article 39(e)[13]: that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength
  • Article 39(f)[14] that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

The judicial bodies have interpreted article 21 in different ways, one of which is that right to life means not merely an animal existence but a right to live a dignified life[15] and a structural system to offer education at any cost, but the states fail to recognize their duties which results in the neglected life of street kids. Furthermore, Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education (RTE)[16], 2009 was enacted by the parliament to improve the status of elementary education of children, but it didn’t reach its goals due to mismanagement by the poor performance of states, for instance inability to tackle the worsening situation of school infrastructure.

The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956[17] is a law for which the power is given under article 35 of the constitution to prevent prostitution of human beings. The Supreme Court reinstated it in a judgment and considered the article to rehabilitate and safeguard ‘child’ victims of prostitution. This has been said to keep the act in conformity with UN Protocols[18] that defines ‘trafficking in persons’ and especially to punish the perpetrators in cases of women and children used for the purpose of forced slavery, and bonded labor which makes a roadside kid highly vulnerable as compared to others.

There is a gamut of state legislations to define the term ‘street children’ like according to, The Street Children (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2001[19] sought to define street children as “the deprived with unknown parentage, abandoned and neglected children, including destitute children of sex workers.” The same word constitutes a varied meaning by UNICEF, which provides three operational categories of street children.

  • First, children on the street “those children who have their families and homes and who return to their homes at the end of each day” [20]
  • second, children of the street, “those children who have considered the street as their home and seek shelter, livelihood and companionship on the streets and have intermittent contacts with their families” and [21]
  • last abandoned children, i.e. “those who have cut off all the ties with their families and are completely on their own.[22] Special laws and legislations which strike a balance between a just society and the current alarming situations are:
  • The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000
  • The Child Labor Prohibition Act, 1986
  • The Street Child (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2001
  • Charter for Children, 2001

The following laws have been formulated in India to ameliorate the civic life and tackle the problem of rapidly increasing street children across the nation.

Non-uniformity and lack of precision for the term ‘street kids’ is also one of the reasons why there is a lot of confusion and mishap in the collection of data, which negatively affects the distribution of resources among the targeted community, conducted by governmental authorities. A more current and scholarly definition in a cross-cultural context is provided by Aptekar and Stoecklin[23] in 2014 where they have divided children in street situations into street children from the developing world and homeless youth from the developed world. International definitions (CRC) of the term differ from that of national statutes, researches, studies and legislations, as a consequence of which it becomes a challenge for the child to fall in the structural criteria.

ROLE OF NGO’s IN FIGHT FOR JUSTICE

UN ‘Street Children’[24] says that any boy or girl for whom the street has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood and who are inadequately protected supervised or directed by responsible adults. It beckons towards a child who has made a dwelling wasteland his/her home, considering their only source of income and livelihood either by money obtained from begging or theft. To come into the rescue of these campaigns by non-governmental organizations have reduced infant mortality, chronic malnutrition and child trafficking, and increased access to primary and secondary education.

‘Consortium for Street Children’[25] which came up with an idea to connect various networks and charities to co-operate and work as a single entity for the noble cause of liberty for street kids. With the support from UNICEF, it created history to become the first global agency to work for street children across 135 nations.

Child Labor Action Network (CLAN) works with an aim to create a peaceful society where all the children grow up as a responsible citizen of the country. It acts as a ginger group along with the government and UN while also train kids on child rights and mitigating children who are in conflict with the law.

While working from the front, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), constituted in the year 1993 has committed itself to safeguard the rights of street kids in the country. One of the best examples to depict the action stance of NHRC is the judgment of M.C. Mehta vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors[26] where the court dealt with the case of bonded labor where children were forced to work in dangerous factories and glass industries in demeaning circumstances which violated article 45 of the constitution, and also with the proper implementation of child labor protection (prohibition and regulation) act, 1986. It is due to Commission’s continued efforts that education has today become a Fundamental Right for the children between the age group of 6 and 14 years vide 86th Amendment[27] of the Constitution.

COVID-19 AND STREET CHILDREN

In 2019, a global pandemic nCov-19 (novel coronavirus) emerged and changed everything in a blow. It turned out to be the most deadly nightmare both socially and economically ever imagined by any nation in recent decades. There has been an estimate that coronavirus could push around 49 million people into extreme poverty. Resultantly, this would leave the future of impoverished kids in a murky state. Different children stand on an unequal footing, so is the growing inequality which is continuously creating a persistent gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

COVID‑19 may present serious challenges for inclusive growth as the poorest children are likely to be the hardest hit and their life chances severely limited, unless immediate and comprehensive measures are taken. To date, 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth, which impact the education of poor kids critically.[28] OECD countries like China, India, poverty and economy is a huge barrier to access basic service, and leave them exposed to Cov-19 due to lack of income and earnings. [29]

The World Bank group is trying to mitigate poverty by policies which can get applied to affected countries in their specific circumstances:[30]

  • An effective response in support of poor and vulnerable households will require significant additional fiscal resources.
  • Any support package will need to quickly reach both the existing and new poor.
  • Decision-makers need timely and policy-relevant information on impacts and the effectiveness of policy responses.

In the aftermath of the crisis, health, education and family support services should take on board the lessons learned on how to best develop resilient and crisis-proof child policies, data and service infrastructures to support families and children.

JUDICIAL INTERVENTION 

With the introduction of the 7th five-year plan (1985-1990) which aimed to achieve the goal of ‘social justice’ with emphasis on development in all sectors. This also gave an opportunity to the apex court to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed rights of children. This was a substantial step in the legal world, carrying utmost importance with it.

Lakshmikant Pandey v UOI[31]: The landmark judgment laid down several procedural guidelines regarding systematic adoption of children to prevent child labor, slavery and forced prostitution. In response to court’s directives the central government proposed to create Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), and supplementary legislations of Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (amended in 2006) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007. 

Sheila Barse v UOI[32]: The court held that detention of destitute or delinquent children below the age of 16 should be stopped as per article 39(f) of constitution, and also (if) trials regarding trafficking should be held in juvenile courts rather than the general criminal court, with the application of uniform children act throughout the country.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan v UOI[33]: In this case, the Supreme Court stated about physical, mental and specifically sexual abuse against little children who faced child abuse while working at a circus. The court entertained the PIL under article 32 of the constitution, regarding the violation of fundamental rights of children.

Thus, it has been ensured that no one is left behind to foster their kids with potential resources just because of their circumstances and financial growth. New parliamentary regulations, laws and judicial intervention are engineered to attain affirmative action to lower the plight of street kids in India, and also to accomplish the global standards.

CONCLUSION

The youth, which is of the principal value in a developing nation, should never be ignored by the central institutions. The concept of ‘streetism’ which showcases the penurious state of India is in the dire need of improvement and quick action. Right from the beginning, street kids are considered as an inferior subject and thus deprived of their basic fundamental and human rights. An integrated and comprehensively designed program with a reach at grass root level can eradicate this evil, which not only is unfortunate but also socially diverse due to being regionally dynamic in nature.


[1] The Deccan Herald, 2018, available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/content/345449/mumbai-blore-have-highest-street.html (last visited on Feb 20, 2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Better Care Network, available at: UN CRC General Comment No. 21 (2017) on children in street situations | Better Care Network (last visited on Feb 15, 2022).

5 UN Secretary General, The Sustainable Developmental Goals Report, 2017, Report of the Secretary General, UN Doc E/2017/66 (May 11, 2017).

6 The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.

 

 

[7] UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Working with Street Children, Module 1, UN Doc: WHO/MSD/MTP/00.14.

[8] The Constitution of India, art. 37.

[9] HAQ Centre for Child Rights, available at: https://www.haqcrc.org/child-rights/constitution-of-india/ (last visited on Feb 21, 2022).

[10] Indian Constitution. art. 21A , amended by The Constitution (Eighty-sixth amendment) Act, 2000.

[11] The Constitution of India, art. 24.

[12] The Constitution of India, art. 45.

[13] The Constitution of India, art. 39, cl. e.

[14] The Constitution of India, art. 39, cl. f.

[15] Francis Coralie v UOI, AIR 1981 SC 746.

[16] Right to Education Act, 2009 (Act 35 of 2009).

[17] The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 (Act 104 of 1956).

[18] India signed the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons especially women and children on Dec 12, 2002.

[19] The Street Children (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2001, cl. 2(i).

[20] Ajay, ‘Legal Protection of Street Children in India: A Critical Analysis’ ILI Summer Issue, (Indian Law Institute) 2019.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Aptekar and Stoecklin, ‘Street Children and Homeless Youth: A Cross-Cultural Perspective’ Amsterdam: Springer, 2014.

[24] Lakshmi, G. Rao, “Street Children-The problem, causes and approaches” 7(1) Journal of Institute of Human Rights 84 (2004).

[25] Sarah Thomas De Benitez, “State of the World’s Street Children: Violence” Consortium for Street Children, 2007.

[26] MC Mehta v State of Tamil Nadu & ors, AIR 1987 965.

[27] Id., art. 21.

[28] Group, U. (ed.) (2020), The Impact of Covid 19 on Children, UN, New York https://unsdg.un.org/resources/policy-brief-impact-covid-19-children.

[29] OECD, Policy Response on Coronavirus to Covid-19, available at, https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/combatting-covid-19-s-effect-on-children-2e1f3b2f/ (last visited on Feb 21, 2022).

[30] Carolina Sanchez Paramo, “Covid-19 will hit poor the hardest” Voices; World Bank Blogs (April 23, 2020)

[31] Lakshmikant Pandey v UOI, 1984 AIR 469.

[32] Sheila Barse v UOI, (1995) 5 SCC 654.

[33] Bachpan Bachao Andolan v UOI, (2011) 5 SCC 1.


Author: Shalini Singh


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