National policies on child protection, the Juvenile Justice law recognises children who live and work on streets as one of the key groups of children in need of care and protection. India, which is working economic growth, massive urbanisation, is also faced with an intimidating challenge of rural poor migrating to cities and becoming settlers in slums and streets, and are de-recognised as beneficiaries of any social welfare programmes because of their illegitimacy of their residence. Migration of children from villages to cities, especially adolescent boys, are also on the rise. Approaches of institutionalisation of such children, especially who are attached to their families, or even older adolescents, are no longer a feasible solution. The governments’ participation in funding of such structures are still minimal, international aid towards such programmes in India are receding since the international perception, validated by the government of India, is that India can afford to pay for such programmes, and corporate patronage of such programmes are marginal.
NGOs who work with street children are faced with dual challenges:
The focus of rehabilitation of street children who are institutionalised must be formal education. Given the disparity in quality of education between public and private schools, it is always a challenge for street children’s organisations to fight against the discrimination in admission by well known, reputed and premiere schools, who perpetuate exclusion of children who come from socio-economically challenged backgrounds. The process of admission is fraught with discrimination and the Right To Education bill, passed in India, which makes it mandatory for schools to be inclusive, is projected to be yet another tough social law to implement, in the face of class discrimination that is integrated in Indian society as much as in any developing nation. However, every street children’s rehabilitation programme must also build a strong vocational training and job placement programme, especially for those adolescents who may not be able to cope with higher education, or who may choose technical education, so as to be able to prepare themselves for the job market.
While the traditional approach to care and protection programmes for children living and working on streets and railway stations has been through institutional care and rehabilitation, there have been few attempts by several organisations to attempt community based programming in streets and railway stations. Interestingly, very few organisations have focussed on both equally, there has been a propensity to focus on one or the other, and build ideological positions in justifications of these approaches.
‘Outreach‘ for institutional care and rehabilitation programmes have been restricted to identification of children who need institutionalisation and related services. In partnership with Don Bosco Ashalayam, Sanjog will initiate an action research programme next year to build capacities of its outreach programme, and skills and capacities of its outreach workers, to address issues of vulnerability, care and protection of children in 5 areas of Kolkata, ranging from its railway stations and surrounding areas, illegal/irregular slums and settlers colonies (which have no civic infrastructure) and commercial streets where a high number of children are engaged in begging and peddling.