Changing the Hard Lives of India’s Street Children

Begging children are one of the most fundamental markers of social injustice in the Third World countries. In India, a country of over a billion inhabitants, many poor children are still forced to beg today. You see them going from shop to shop and street to street all day long in major cities, when they should be in school and provided for by the parents, community, or the state.

Unofficial figures show that an estimated 400K children live on streets in India and some 18 million work on streets. Of those that are forced to beg, there are stories of children who are abducted from small, rural areas and smuggled to cities to beg and earn for their masters under threat to life. This plight of begging street children is pictured in the poem “Anand’s Lot” by K.V. Dominic:

Image Credit: Robert Lyon

Image Credit: Robert Lyon

They scold me and beat me
for not earning much as they dreamed.
Many months have passed
since I left my mummy, dad and Smitha?
Are they still crying at my loss?

(Excerpted from the book K.V. Dominic—Essential Readings and Study Guide: Poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment, Modern History Press, coming June)

And as the country’s political leadership struggles to manage the problem of street children across the country, some local organizations can be seen doing helpful work on small scale to improve the lives of street children.

“There is very little outreach work that the government does here to help street children, although there are services available and support,” says UK social worker Robert Lyon, a founder of Goa Outreach. Lyon tells that there is now the right to education act that makes it compulsory for children aged 6 to 14 years to attend school, but many children are still found working, staying at home, or begging on streets; there is no practical effort to get them into school, just a law to punish the families if and when the children are found in conflict with the law.

But the deep-rooted problem is again ignorance. In this region in the 21st Century, there is still serious lack of knowledge among parents about law and available resources. Goa Outreach provides street children with all the requirements that they need to attend and to fit in and be proud of their appearance. The latter matters because many children don’t go to school simply because of fear of embarrassment or peer pressure owing to their shabby appearance.

“We provide, uniforms, bags, books, stationary, shoes and pay for any fees—depending on school and/or age,” tells Lyon. “The work we do is important as we proactively go out and find children who need help getting and staying in school, these children are often overlooked otherwise.”

Work done by local organizations, like Goa Outreach, serve an important purpose aside from providing relief to street children and helping with basic needs. It brings attention to the problem, which is the first step in solving it effectively.

But with all good work come questions of credibility. When organizations receive donations from local and/or international sources, the stakeholders need to be transparent and the donors get the right to see where their money is going.

Lyon explains that Goa Outreach is a project of Joy Home for Children and has its final accounts submitted to the Charity Commission of England and Wales after being checked by an accountant as per UK law. These are available by request from the charity.

Social change is quite slow a process, especially in age where humanity is past revolutions and their horrors. In 2016, the world is seeing gradual increase in awareness about issues of street children, both in India and in neighboring nations, thanks to work of small organizations and small presses publishing the uplifting work that goes in bringing about the desirable social change.

About the Author

Ernest Dempsey is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist based in Orlando, FL. He runs a popular blog Word Matters! at http://www.ernestdempsey.com/ and edits the journal and its blog Recovering the Self. Dempsey is a sceptic, vegetarian, and advocate for animal and human rights.