Radio silence on number of street kids in Hyderabad, their plight

Recently, a stranger who offered her tea and biscuits, subjected her to a horrifying assault. Swathi, who now resides in a rehabilitation centre, struggles to find the words to express her ordeal. 

Published: 01st June 2023 07:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st June 2023 07:17 AM   |  A+A-

Kids, Orphans, Children

Image used for representational purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: In the dusty, sun-baked streets of Hyderabad, a 13-year-old girl, Swathi (name changed), stretches out her hand, pleading for money. She has resorted to begging to provide for her mother with undiagnosed mental health conditions and two younger siblings. 

Recently, a stranger who offered her tea and biscuits, subjected her to a horrifying assault. Swathi, who now resides in a rehabilitation centre, struggles to find the words to express her ordeal. 

Her journey to the streets began after dropping out of school in second grade, following her father’s death. “My mother and badi ammi (aunt) had a fight, and we were expelled from our hut in Chintal Basti,” she shares. Swathi’s story is just one among many that shed light on the challenges faced by street children, emphasising the urgent need to assess their numbers in Telangana.

Street children play at a child care home in Hyderabad | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan 

Citing directives from the Supreme Court, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) called on States to identify hotspots of street children and develop rescue plans before May 31. However, it remains unclear whether the State has conducted the necessary survey and submitted the data, as attempts to reach Women Development and Child Welfare (WDCW) Commissioner Bharati Hollikeri went unanswered. 

A recent incident involving the mauling of a seven-year-old homeless boy to death by stray dogs further underscores the pressing need for the survey and measures to safeguard these vulnerable children.

Vulnerable to abuse
A survey conducted by Save the Children in 2016 revealed the presence of approximately 29,000 Children in Street Situations (CiSS) in Hyderabad. “There is an urgent need for another survey, as the number of children is likely to have increased by now. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a sharp decline in school enrolment and a rise in orphaned children. Many families lost their livelihoods and plunged into poverty,” explains AV Ambika, treasurer of Aman Vedika, a non-profit service society involved in managing childcare institutions. She suspects that the number of CiSS may have risen by 20% to 30%.

Lacking access to shelter, these children are highly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. “Despite receiving counselling multiple times, a 12-year-old boy still struggles as a drug addict on the streets,” says P Radhika, a member of the Arshita Foundation, which works with CiSS. 

Near Kacheguda railway station, there are 10-15 families in similar circumstances. A 20-year-old girl, who migrated from Mahbubnagar and is currently a mother to a four-year-old boy and seven months pregnant, resides near the Gandhi Hospital area in search of medical services. 

“She relies on donated food, often wearing the same clothes for months and discarding them only when replacements are received. In desperate situations, she instructs her son to beg for money to pay for the use of public restrooms,” adds Radhika. 

Unique circumstances push kids to the streets

Accompanying Radhika during her visit, TNIE attempted to engage with some of these families. However, they refused, fearing their children might be taken away. As soon as these vulnerable children are identified, a team from Childline India Foundation (CIF) rescues them and presents them before the District Child Welfare Committee (CWC). 

“The children can be roughly categorised into three groups -- those who live on the streets with their parents or family, those who are alone, and those who work during the day and return to makeshift shelters at night,” said a team member from Childline, citing anonymity. During the pandemic, a Childline team member rescued a boy who had run away from his family due to physical abuse by his stepfamily. 

Currently, efforts are underway to rescue the two children who have been seen begging alongside their family members near the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University. Each child has faced unique circumstances that led them to the streets, the Childline member says.

The harsh reality
Mostly engaged in activities such as theft, begging, selling small items at intersections and working in hotels and eateries, CiSS endure deplorable living conditions, experts point out, adding that their harsh reality forces them to become stubborn or impulsive. Unfortunately, their experiences on the street are predominantly negative, they add. Once presented to the CWC, a social investigation of the child is conducted. 

The CWC either contacts the child’s parents and arranges for their return or, if necessary, places them in Child Care Institutions (CCI) for rehabilitation. “Only the CWC has the authority to rescue and rehabilitate children. When a child is admitted to our institution, we provide education and various skills training until they reach the age of 18. Then, we aim to reintegrate them into society, this time to lead a life of dignity,” explains Ramella Thomas, director of Don Bosco CCI in Ramanthapur.

Concerns have been raised by Childline members involved in rescue operations on the ground, as the recent merger with the Union government has led to the appointment of new members with limited experience in handling such situations. “The appointment of new members with less experience in handling these situations may have an impact on the children, as the new people lack sensitivity in dealing with them,” says the Childline member who has been working on the ground for the past seven years.

Baal Swaraj is a portal launched by NCPCR for online tracking and digital real-time monitoring mechanism of children in need of care and protection. Only 9,945 entries were recorded on the Bal Swaraj portal as on January 11, 2022. The data was presented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Rajya Sabha in reply to a question.

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