Today, many children, like the children of Hamelin who followed the pied piper, are being lured to the railway platforms and streets of Bangalore only to lead a life of misery. Dire consequences push children to step out of the world they know and venture out into a harsh, unprotected environment with no certainty as to where they will sleep, when they will get their next meal or what their future will be.
On Monday morning, 13-year-old Mahesh from Gulbarga arrived at the city railway station to work in a hotel. His father who was left disabled by an accident, vented all his frustration on the teenager. Confused and traumatised Mahesh decided to take off. With his gaze fixed on the ground, Mahesh said, “I couldn’t take the physical abuse any more. And I always wanted to work in a hotel. So I told my mother and quietly came away.” Like Mahesh close to 15-20 children come to Bangalore every day from different parts of the country.
Wearing a shabby pair of shorts and T-shirt, 7-year-old Shiva sits in a corner drawing a bright orange cow in his tiny notebook. Rescued by a city-based NGO, Shiva begged in bus stands to augment the family income, the lion share of which was earned by his mother- a commercial sex worker.
Abused both on the street and at home Shiva’s experiences had an adverse effect on his mind.
City-based NGOs like BOSCO (Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota) rescue close to twenty children every day from city bus stands and railway stations. “These children need to be saved before they end up on the streets. Once they start living on the street they are lost,” said Georjeo Pius from the NGO.
The organisation focuses on rescue and rehabilitation of children found in the vulnerable situations especially in places like railway stations, bus stations, market squares and neighbouring slums/streets of Bangalore. After the rescue, children are rehabilitated through counselling, home integration, education, job placement, vocational training, personality enhancement and follow up until the child is able to stand on his/her feet. With a SJPU (Special Juvenile Police Unit) in place, BOSCO claims that 65 per cent of the children they rescued are sent back to their families. But if the family is abusive, the children are retained at the NGO and the parents are counselled.
Vasudeva Sharma, a former member of the Karnataka Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Executive Director of Child Rights Trust said, “It is very important for any NGO or person to file a complaint in a police station if a child is found alone. Most NGOs don’t file a complaint and keep the child illegally in their custody. Such organisations pick up funding based on the number of children under their care.”
He further added, “No matter what, every child should be reunited with their family. But counselling is an important ingredient of rehabilitation. A missing complaint was filed by a child’s parents some time back.
After a lot of investigation it was found that the child had been kept by the authorities of a National level NGO in Bangalore. The child had told them about his background and had also given his address. But the NGO made no attempt to reunite the child with his family.”