NEW DELHI, India- In New Delhi, tourists have the opportunity to go on a guided walking tour of the slums that surround the New Delhi train station. It is hot, smelly, crowded and chaotic, but every morning about twelve tourists follow a young Indian tour guide through the maze of poverty and despair. The tour is called “City Walk” and is led by an 18-year-old former street kid named Satender Sharma who promises to show the people where the children live, how they got there and how they survive. Satender left home at age 11, when his alcoholic father beat his mother to death, lots of street children have left home for similar reasons.
Many children end up living in and around the railway station after stowing away on trains. Some of the children, especially boys, are able to make a living begging, stealing, shining shoes, and gathering old whisky bottles to sell. Satender told NPR news that boys can make up to 200 rupees day, equivalent to $4.50, this is a lot of money in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on a mere $2 per day.
India’s street and working children contribute to approximately 20 percent of the countries gross national product by carrying luggage, selling flowers and papers, shining shoes and pimping. Children often do not work alone but are drawn in and exploited by adults in workshops, gangs and brothels. While the Indian government has outlawed child labor, there is not enough agency support to monitor these laws and child labor remains high.
Unfortunately, they have no place to keep the money they earn and cannot protect it from being stolen by other street kids or corrupt police. The kids spend their money on entertainment such as video arcades, movie theaters and drugs. The drug of choice for these kids are inhalants such as glue and typewriter fluid; boys who use inhalants are often dead by their late teens. The fate is even worse for girls, who often fall prey to prostitution.
There are 300,000 street kids in New Delhi alone, and some sources estimate there may be as many as 18 million throughout India. It is hard to calculate the number of children living on the streets because they do not have any legal documents and cannot be traced. Some of the children are part of whole families living on the streets and others are alone. The world population of street children is reported to be 150 million.
40 percent of these children are homeless and have no family; the rest work on the streets to help support their families. The majority of street children are boys, although it is important to note that many female street children may be merely hidden and hard to count. About 40 percent of street children are aged 11 to 15-years-old and 33 percent are aged 6 to 10-years-old.
These children do not attend school and have a low chance of gaining any economic stability in adulthood. They are at risk of violence, sexual exploitation, drug addiction, and human rights violations. In extreme cases street children may be murdered by “Clean Up Squads” hired by local businesses. UNICEF has spoken about the human rights of children, but much still needs to be done to create better lives for India’s slumdogs.
– Elizabeth Brown