Rashid has five brothers and one sister. He lives on the street with his mother, father and siblings. His parents are drug addicted. He is 16 years old but has never been to school. He dreams of becoming a doctor.
According to estimates by the UN Refugee Agency, Rashid is just one among 18 million children living on India’s streets, mainly in the large metropolitan cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.
To an outsider it might seem like an impossibly high figure, but after travelling through India for four months it’s easy to believe. Every night at Delhi’s famous monument, the Gateway to India, young boys sell fairy floss, flower garlands and the latest toy craze. While train stations often look like mini refugee camps, with thousands of children calling the platforms home.
To give visitors an insight on why these children are living on the street and how they spend their days and make their money, the charity Salaam Baalak Trust operates tours through Delhi’s railway platforms and slums. Money raised on the tour goes towards the trust’s programs, in the hopes of improving the children’s lives.
According to Salaam Baalak tour guide, Anil there are two types of street children.
The first live on the streets with their family, while the second group have either run away from home or been abandoned.
Here Anil talks about those children who live on the city’s platforms alone:
Most children earn approximately 60 rupees per day (approximately Australian $1.50).
Listen to Anil explain how they earn and spend their money:
For those children living on the streets, Salaam Baalak Trust runs a series of programs, including five 24-hour full care shelters, mental health services, medical facilities and informal schooling.
The trust also runs an outreach program, which targets children who are still living with their parents in slums or illegal housing and are in danger of becoming homeless.
Here Anil explains how the outreach programs work:
But for most of the street children living with their families, they are the main source of income, so convincing parents to allow their children to go to outreach programs can be difficult, Anil says.
A note on the tour:
While the tour has good motives, it is also a voyeuristic experience, offering tourists the opportunity to view a side of Delhi life outside the monuments and museums. It is easy to feel uncomfortable hearing the story of someone like Rashid, listening to his seemingly impossible hopes and dreams, and then walking away. There was also an uneasy moment where Rashid starting dancing for the tour group, making you wonder whether these children feel exploited by the whole process.
However, Anil, the tour guide we had, grew up in a slum that neighbours the railway station. He also did most of his schooling in a community education facility, much like the one Salaam Baalak now runs. He shares similar stories to those children who have benefited from outreach and education services that Salaam Baalak now runs, so he was able to give valuable insight into the hopes, lives and dreams of those living below the poverty line. Because of his experiences he was also conscious of the privacy of the children we met and ensured no photographs were taken unless okayed by the subjects.
To learn more about the tour and the trust visit there website.