The phenomenon of street children is still a harsh reality, despite India’s progress as a developing nation. From poverty, attraction to cities, employment, peer group influence, abusive homes and abandonment, children are found in vulnerable situations when they lose their first line of protection – their family and home.
Our recent study highlighted that 121860 children alone are at risk at 32 railway stations across all 16 railway zones, emphasizing the need to reach and rescue them before they take to a life on the streets. Here are some risks that children without a home are likely to face, bringing a spotlight to why we need robust, child-friendly and safe shelter homes for children across the country.
Children are at an elevated risk of abuse and exploitation when they are found alone and roaming in and around railway stations. Traffickers amongst other strangers lurk around to catch vulnerable children for exploitative purposes.
The health condition and nutritional status of children is highly compromised when they live on the streets, or away from a home. With lack of access to healthcare of social services, exposure to numerous infections and diseases, lack of care and guidance for hygiene and sanitation, their overall health takes a hit.
Exposed to physical and psychological violence, living in constant fear and anxiety, children on the streets and away from a nurturing home environment need constant psychological support for their mental health.
Living at make-shift homes, in slums or shanties, at pavements or parks, jhuggies or railway stations, their place of stay is unsafe, putting them at a perpetual threat of abuse and exploitation.
Often children collect their food from unsafe sources through begging, from train compartments, sometimes from passengers who give them leftovers and sometimes by collecting leftovers themselves, putting their lives in danger.
Majority of children living at and around railway stations or on the street use the railway line toilet or any available public toilets. For drinking water, children ask restaurants or hotels or use pipes and water taps, that expose them to grave risks.
Children in and around railway stations or living on the streets have little or no access to quality education, learning or vocational training, pushing them into an exploitative work force at a young age, unable to live their childhood years with all their rights fulfilled.
Children without a happy home and loving family environment, often give in to negative peer influence, get involved in crime and bad habits, growing up much before their age.