“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”
Every morning, a boy comes in front of the gate of my rented room and shout “kuda lekar aao”, “kuda lekar aao” (bring your garbage, bring your garbage). He is just about 12 years of age. His clothes are dirty, torn and unwashed. He tries to act very hard to sound like an adult, with his voice unusually loud, as if trying to assert some authority over the people, most of them housewives, who bring out the garbage. I too give my garbage to him. Once in every month, a person comes to collect 50 rupees from each of us who give the child garbage.
When the boy shouts “kuda lekar aao” with his voice unusually loud, I would sometimes smile at him and he would smile back.
Living in this place called Delhi is very restraining for a person like me, who hails from Northeast region, in certain sense. While the city has empowered me in terms of the kind of education, experience, and many other things that I have received, the same city has also made me feel a sense of alienation with the increasing cases of racial discrimination and racial violence in most metropolitan cities in India with Delhi being the epicentre.
I do really intend to ask the child what else he does. I want to know whether he goes to school and if not why. I want him to go to school and get good education. After all, it is his fundamental right and a contact with some good NGOs may help him as well. Because, I know very well how much education can change a person’s life.
At best, at present, what I can do is to put my thoughts on the challenges faced by a child like him. Generally, a child growing up in tribal societies living in hilly areas, slum, urban environment, and industrial and mining areas comes across various issues.
Children living in these areas mostly belong to poor families. Lack of access to basic requirements such as food, shelter and clothing cause the children living in these areas poor in health, nutrition, etc. Because of widespread poverty in these areas, there are cases of child labour, child marriage and various other issues.
Most children living in these areas are vulnerable to various challenges such as child trafficking. There is a rising demand for live-in maids in urban areas. This has resulted in trafficking of girls from villages to urban areas. The trafficked children are often made to do odd works and subjected to sexual abuse.
The children living in these areas face various forms of discriminations in the society. For instance, despite various measures by the government and civil society, children of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continue to face discriminations in the society in various forms. Literacy rate among SC/ST population is lowest compared to other communities and at the same time their enrolment rate is also very low. Moreover, very low percentage of them complete primary schooling.
Various factors such as poverty, discrimination and other socio-economic constraints force them out of school. Besides, there is limited success on the part of the government to bring in these children under quality universal education.
Lack of quality universal education has also contributed to children dropping out of school and entering the labour force.
Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes of child labour. Children living in these areas are often subjected to child labour or sometimes bonded child labour. These children are brought to urban areas and used as domestic workers.
The children living in these areas are often malnourished and underfed. This is more clearly seen among marginalised groups such as scheduled castes and tribes. Discrimination in food based schemes and in society in general leads to starvation deaths among women and children of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The children living in these areas are thus subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Their life and rights are under threat.
It calls for the government and the civil society to make efforts to safeguard their rights and ensure their well-being. Our government should have the kind of determination it shows in other areas, to be shown regarding the protection of children and their rights. After all, children are the future of our society. If they fail, the nation falls.