HYDERABAD: At any busy traffic junction, the red light signals a halt to the movement of vehicles but at the same time a go-ahead to the invasion of beggars, mostly children. These half-naked kids in a shabby `avatar’ do all sorts of things like banging on the vehicle, scratching the glass and clinging on to the doors to get the attention of motorists and are adamant enough not to move till a good amount of change is handed over. In the process, they put themselves at great risk, cause irritation, annoyance, inconvenience and even danger to the motorists by diverting their attention and then obstruct movement of traffic while trying to reach to safety once vehicles start moving after the green signal is on.
This is the most common experience for motorists and because there are an estimated 50,000-plus child beggars in the twin cities, a majority of them drafted for the job by their very parents or organised mafia gangs. And the tragic part is, there is an increasing tendency among them to bring more and more toddlers into the racket.
K Shashikirana Chary, project director, the National Child Labour Project said 2000 such children have been caught and put under surveillance so far this year. “We are picking these children as and when we get complaints or during raids by our enforcement teams. We take them to transit homes and keep them there till their parents or kin come looking for them. If none turns up, we arrange for their education up to fifth class.”
“The parents of these kids are the main culprits and have no self-esteem. Most of them are repeat offenders. Every time they are caught and released they shift to a new locality to continue their activities. We try and counsel the parents too but often with no result.”
More worrying is the fact that these children are part of organised crime controlled by mafia. These kids are estimated to earn anywhere between Rs 200 and 500 a day and a percentage of it goes to their “guardian”.
According to a government report, India has the largest population of street-children in the world. The international NGO, CRY ( Child Rights and You) has already sounded caution on the grave situation.
“The high-risk group street-children are those who do not have any responsible parents or guardians and grow up in the streets. Without protection from parents or the state, these kids are tricked, threatened and/or grievously harmed (for instance, raped) to force them into beggary, thefts and other criminal activities. They have a very poor health status and work in the most inhuman and dangerous conditions,” said Sahaya Teresa, communication manager, CRY.
In spite of undertaking some initiatives in the past, the government has failed to make much headway in protecting these kids, she said.
Usha Rani, director of Women and Child Welfare Department, however, expressed confidence that with the newly-launched Intensive Child Protection Society Programme, things are going to change for the better in the future.
“The project will be activated soon and it will also address the issues of child labour and children’s rights. We have already instructed the district offices to get going on the programme. Since there are no statistics available on the number of child beggars, a census on their numbers is also being taken up,” she said.
Usha Rani said a special drive will be launched soon to send child beggars to school according to the Right to Education Act after due consultations with the education and police departments.