Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Street children on the increase in Meghalaya

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SHILLONG: The streets here are home to many homeless kids. They are termed “street children” and live in shady nooks and corner of the town. In an interaction with these children, it is learnt that there are different categories. The street children who work and return to their home everyday after their work, street children who literally live with other children on the streets bereft of families and lastly the children of families living on the streets.

Though these children are mainly boys, sometimes girls too are seen moving around to beg, borrow or steal. Mostly illiterate, these children cannot even dream of going to school, due to abject poverty.

“Education for us is secondary since we have to take care of our own stomachs as we don’t have parents to look after us,” says one of them.

These children may not be visiting schools, playing in the fields, attending picnics etc. but their maturity is above that of many of their peers. They mainly work as rag-pickers, street vendors, work in roadside stalls, restaurants, hotels, as porters and much more. “We mainly do this to support our families and our own food requirements,” said a child from Butcher Road area of the town.

When asked why they do such unhygienic work, some of them said, “We are treated like animals by people and none care for us. We may work in the bins but many don’t know that most of our savings are also forcefully spent in maintaining basic personal hygiene and health care.” On asking if they get any assistance from the state government, the children scoffed at the question.

Sadly these children also begin using drugs at a very age. It is learnt that they regularly take pharmaceutical drugs such as anti-spasmodics; they sniff dendrite and also use ganja. Others admitted that they are chain smokers and also use tobacco, pan-masala, alcohol, whiteners and thinners.

“It is a pity that the government does not have a scheme to accommodate this growing population of street children,” said many residents of the town.

The 1098 Childline website says that to address the issue of street children engaged in dendrite sniffing and other undesired activities, the Police Department has directed the Police Patrol Parties to look into the matter. It may be mentioned that these children are subject to family and police abuses besides gender discrimination, too.

As per the study of Save the Children, an NGO, in association with the Institute for Human Development, New Delhi in the national capital said that lack of identity proof for many street children posed a major hindrance for accessing government support. The NGO has made several recommendations for policy intervention by the government with specific suggestions for facilitation of identity proof to enable access to education, increase in number of day and night shelters among others. These could be emulated in the state.

Meanwhile, there are two child welfare schemes implemented in the state – ICDS and SABLA. The latter is for the adolescent girl child. A Nongrum, Child Welfare Probation Officer said that the ICDS is designed for the welfare of street children, which is being run by two NGOs – Reach Ministry and Bosco Reach Out. “These NGOs have shelter homes for the welfare of street children,” he said.

By Our Reporter

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