Surviving on the streets
The implementation of government’s Directives on street kids has resulted in a drop in the number of kids on the streets, and as stakeholders work together for the uplift of these kids, awareness and sensitisation among the public should also be a priority
We often hear the phrase ‘children are the pillars of tomorrow’. To strengthen these pillars, ensuring that all children have access to their fundamental rights like right to food, shelter, education and health care should be a priority for all concerned.
According to UNICEF, it is estimated that there are almost 100 million children in the world living on the streets doing what they can to support their livelihood. The report by Ministry of Women,Children and Social Welfare on mapping street children and organisations working with street children of Kathmandu Valley 2072 BS states that the number of children who are less than 18 years of age living on the streets of Kathmandu is estimated at 257-342; the number of children under 16 years of age is estimated at 127. This number constitutes those children who live on the streets and have run away from their homes due to various circumstances. Children who are working on the streets or those who belong to families living on the streets are also recognised as street children.
According to the Asian Development Bank, almost 25.2 per cent of the population of Nepal live below the poverty line and children are the most victimised group being deprived of basic child rights and some forced to make a livelihood on the streets. As shown by the data provided by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN), the majority of the children chooseto leave their home due to family violence. Reportedly, peer influence, poverty and disintegrationof the children’s families are also prominent reasons that compel the children to choose a life on the streets.
A huge number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been working for the protection and rehabilitation of street children in Nepal since 1990. With the objective of addressing the needs of street children, the government introduced the Children’s Actin 1992 which has been updated time and again introducing more provisions for the welfare and uplift of children.
The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare issued ‘Directives on Street Children Protection and Management’ in 2015 with the objective of rescuing, counselling, protecting and reintegrating street children with their family and society along with efficiently working for the betterment and awareness of the children. According to the Directives, any organisation functioning for the street children must get necessary recommendation and permission from the authority concerned namely the District Child Welfare Board (DCWB) and Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB) before conducting any welfare programme. The Directives also encourage the organisations working in the field of street children to mitigate and use their resources efficiently.
Following the Directives, the children are rescued from the streets in coordination with the Children Search Co-ordination Centre (hotline number 104) and taken to drop-in centres where health check-ups and counselling are provided. They are then taken to socialisation centres. Family reintegration is the first priority and families are traced along with which aid is provided according to situations. Vocational training is also provided to the rescued children to encourage self-dependency.
“Street children are dependent mostly on passers-by and organisations for food, clothes and money. And as they get usually everything that they require on the street, they are attracted to the street life,” shares Suneeta Shah, Child Protection Officer at CCWB. She adds, “We took this initiation looking at the need to minimise the number of street children. To see a long-term effect, something like this had to be introduced.”
“The condition of the street children has improved a lot in the recent years,” says Shah. “The rescue work has contributed in decreasing the number of street children considerably,” she adds.
On a similar note, Kumar Pandey, Street Programme Coordinator at Association of Protection of Children (APC)-Nepal says, “The initiation that the government has taken is a very positive one. Children that live on the streets should in no way develop the mentality of sustaining their livelihood on the streets.” He adds, “There are definitely things that need to be improved, but for now the job that they are doing is commendable.”
Aitaraj Limbu, Programme Officer at Child Protection Centres and Services (CPCS), claims that the number of street children has decreased comparatively after the implementation of the government Directives. He loosley estimates the number at 100-150 atpresent. The number was estimated to be more than 500 before the implementation of the Directives.
“This is the first effective programme that the government has put forth and I must say that this has created a healthy environment for NGOs to work in and children to get the services that the organisations provide,” quotes Limbu. “We are working in close coordination with the government which has brought fruitful results till now,” he adds.
According to a CPCS report of 2012, street children as young as six years of age are regularly sniffing glue. Glue sniffing is the most rampant form of addiction seen in street children besides smoking. Similarly, the data states that 25per cent of the street children who are 13-years-old or less have had sexual relationship, and 50 per cent of 14 years or over are involvedin ‘sexual acts’.
Drug abuse, sexual abuse and petty thefts are rife on the streets and the children are being exposed involuntarily to such situations.
“Children are begging for money mostly to fuel their glue sniffing habits or drug addiction,” informs Sukiriti Rana, Programme Officer at CWIN Nepal. “Most of us give themmoney to help them, but they will more likely spend it on something bad,” she adds.
“There are many who are knee-deep in the problem of drugs in the streets,” says Shah, “After we rescue such children, they are taken to our rehabilitation centres where they get counselling.”
Limbu informs that there are counselling, medical and legal provisions that are provided by the organisations to help the rescued street children.
Challenges in rehabilitating them
“Many children run away from the drop-in centres after being rescued,” says Bimala Tiwari, Social Mobiliser at CWIN Nepal. “As they find freedom of the streets more attractive, they cannot remain inside the walls of the shelter. They have to be guided properly as they have no idea about the direction their life is to go in,” she adds.
“It is indeed a difficult task to rehabilitate the children after they have been on the streets for so long,” says Pandey.
Citing that the children have to be convinced that the streets are not their home Pandey says, “They have to be made to understand that living under the open sky will take their future nowhere.”
Though the new way of dealing with street children has done a lot of good, many of the field workers feel that they have lost the rapport they had built with many of the children over the years.
The NGOs have also been providing need-based help to the street children. “Each case is a different one and that is why we need todeal with each child in an individual manner,” opines Rana. Shesays, “There is 70 per cent dropout rate among rescued children; and that in itself has posed as a challenge for us.”
Need for public awareness
Society has long used the derogatory term ‘khaate’ to refer to street children. The social order looks at these children in a negative way which has an adverse psychological effect on the young minds. “Though they live on the streets, we shouldn’t forget they are human beings and that they should be treated with equal respect and love,” says Limbu.
He shares, “The verbal abuse that the children have to face makes them more prone to stick to the streets as they themselves identify more with that surrounding than the ‘normal’ society.”
Though the government has been playing an active role to eliminate the problem of street children, the steps taken to make the public aware are still at its minimum. The government should focus more on making Public Service Announcements in order to change the social mindset, opines one of the sources. Though these are small steps towards the betterment of the children’s future, they could have a huge impact on changing the mentality of stigmatisation of street children prevalent in society.
“People give these children money out of sympathy, but that is not the solution to this problem,” explains Pandey. “People should be made aware of the authorities that are handling the cases of street children so that they know who to contact when they want to help.”
Not only the public, there is an increasing need to counsel street children about the dangers and risks of living on the streets. The government and NGOs should also keep infrastructure management in mind before rescuing such children. A child-friendly environment that facilitates the creative needs of children should be established to decrease the drop-out ratio of rescued children. This being said, the step that the government has taken should be carried on in a systematic way to ensure that the streets no more become a home for vulnerable children. However, it is yet to be seen if this initiation along with the effort of NGOs will make this a reality.