Mumbai’s street kids miss out on welfare doles

A study undertaken by TISS reveals that a large portion of kids living on Mumbai’s streets, who are not included in the census data, are left out of the government’s welfare schemes


Geetanjali Minhas | December 5, 2013

The absence of credible census data in the country has left children belonging to socially and economically disadvantaged communities deprived of government aids and services, a study undertaken by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has revealed.

According to the study titled ‘Making Street Children Matter: A Census Study in Mumbai City’, most of the backward communities don’t have a stable location and hence, keeping a track on their members is difficult. This is the reason why most children from these communities live without any legal identity and receive benefits of the government’s welfare scheme and programmes only in an ad hoc manner, the study suggests.

Based on a sample survey of 37,059 street children in Mumbai, majority of them, including seventy percent boys and thirty percent girls, were found living in commercial areas with a bustling and robust informal economy in places including— markets, railway terminals, bus depots, construction sites, places of worship, etc,.

“While the number of street children may seem to be less than expected, there could be a number of reasons behind this. With increased surveillance of the city, especially post the 26/11 terror attacks, it has become increasingly difficult for (the) homeless to live in public spaces. Street children may have been forced to shift to nearby locations on the outskirts of the city limits, or may even have moved to other towns and cities.

“Another reason for the smaller numbers may be that, in Mumbai, a substantial number of children of street living families live in de-notified slums or those declared as ‘illegal’ slums,” the report says.

Going as per the UNICEF definition, the census included only those kids living with their families on pavements or in temporary structures alongside roads and those found working on the streets by selling wares at traffic signals, begging, and those working on roadside eateries. On the other hand, children living without their family were not included in the study.

The study has further revealed that 65 percent children lived with their families on the streets in temporary structures (made of plastic, cardboard, cloth, tin, or a combination of these; or under the open sky). Out of these, around 24 percent were illiterate and only 31 percent of children between 4 and 6 years of age attended balwadis. Children engaged in menial jobs including selling flowers, newspapers, fruits and other items, working at eateries or construction sites, begging, rag picking, among others constituted 24.44 percent. Further findings suggest that for 71.8 percent of the children, selling items on the road and begging were the most frequently reported income generation activities. In addition, the study has also revealed that children who went to school also took up such activities during their ‘free time’. Also, a majority of the 2.5 percent differently abled street children were engaged in begging.

Addiction to drugs and other harmful substances is another menace that is fast growing among most street kids. Around 15 percent of children were addicted to drugs, whitener, tobacco, shoe polish and other such substances, the study shows.

According to the study, 43.7 percent of the sample population had been living on the streets since birth or had to consequently move out of their homes and start living on the streets with their families. While 50.8 percent reached the streets due to lack of opportunities at home or disturbed family relationships, the remaining children included those who have been separated from their families, chance ‘landing’, or were displaced by the Bombay municipal corporation (BMC).

The expenditure pattern of the street children remained almost the same throughout as most spent their incomes on food, toilet and bathing facilities and contributed to the family income. This was followed by spending on tobacco or drugs, clothes, and entertainment. Around 25 percent of these children reported skipping meals due to lack of money, dependence on others for food, illnesses and injuries among various reasons.

Children residing on the streets are prone to several risks including police harassment, theft of their belongings, threat to life, displacement from BMC, kidnapping, and exploitation by other street people and children. About 44 percent of sample had witnessed verbal, physical or sexual abuse, torture, and forced starving.

The study has also revealed that during illnesses or injuries, though government hospitals were more frequently approached for treatment, 2.9 percent children said they did not seek any treatment.  Further, as many as 77.7 percent were not aware of any scope for getting assistance from the police, government agencies or NGOs.

The study has recommended setting up of 24-hour shelters for homeless families and their children across the city as per an earlier supreme court judgment. Additionally,  it has suggested the provision of basic amenities like water, sanitation and anganwadi facilities to all families living on pavements and in de-notified slums; providing educational scholarships and tutorials to school-going children; appointing outreach workers to encourage out-of-school children to go to schools; linking children with the open schooling system; taking effective measures to include street children in welfare schemes for weaker sections and constitution of a task force to prevent child labour especially in hazardous settings.

In addition, the study has also suggested providing alternate housing to families living at hazardous sites, rehabilitating children found working there; setting up mobile units in the police department to reach out to children facing abuse; setting up de-addiction and rehabilitation facilities for child victims of substance abuse; ensuring better access to healthcare facilities and undertaking sensitisation programmes to spread awareness in the society.




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