People should not look past street children, need to optimise their access to healthcare, says expert

Even as the government has launched several initiatives for the welfare of street children, experts point to continuing challenges faced by them including barriers in accessing healthcare, discrimination, tough living conditions and exploitation

ANI | Updated: 03-04-2024 19:55 IST | Created: 03-04-2024 19:55 IST
People should not look past street children, need to optimise their access to healthcare, says expert
Street children selling balloons and toys at a road in Mumbai. (File photo/ANI). Image Credit: ANI
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Even as the government has launched several initiatives for the welfare of street children, experts point to continuing challenges faced by them including barriers in accessing healthcare, discrimination, tough living conditions and exploitation. Experts say that while the government has its role in tackling the problem, citizens also have a responsibility to see that street children are not deprived of their rights and benefit from the available schemes.

Dr Rajeev Seth, Managing Trustee, Bal Umang Drishya Sanstha (BUDS), said people should not look past street children, listen to their voices and address this social injustice. He said these children live largely invisible in urban slums or work on the streets of India to escape poverty, domestic abuse, violence and trafficking.

"Many of these children grow up deprived of their basic rights to healthcare and development, endure harsh physical, sexual and emotional abuse and face exploitation as child labourers. The issue of street children requires urgent attention," he said. Citing estimates of the non-profit sector, he said lakhs of children depend on the streets to live or work, whether alone, with peers or with their family. "Counting children in street situations is complicated. Street children often do not have a birth certificate to confirm their age or identity. Without legal status, they drop off official statistics. It is also not uncommon for street children to avoid legal authorities, frightened of the repercussions," he said.

According to the Census 2001 figures, there were 1.26 crore working children in the age group of 5-14 as compared to the total child population of 25.2 crore. As per a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2004-05, the number of working children is estimated at 90.75 lakh. As per Census 2011, the number of working children in the age group of 5-14 years has reduced to 43.53 lakh. Dr Seth said that street children are seen in markets, roadsides and traffic lights and work as shoe shiners, tea carriers, rag pickers or vendors of trinkets and plastic toys.

"And sometimes we don't see them at all - they are confined to factories, back-room bars, or inside tarpaulin-covered huts. Many times, we pass by these street children in our daily lives, and often we choose to keep them invisible, we look past them, and say nothing. When will we realize that silence is violence? Like any other person, these underprivileged children have dreams and talents, but they are left behind. We must address this social injustice. We must listen and heed to their voices," he said. "Hearing the lived experience of these street children can provide insights, identify gaps and strategize public health care response. With little help, we can make these children contributing members of our society," he added.

The Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law to all citizens, and has pledged special protections for children. In 1992, India accepted the obligations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and has taken several steps to advance Child Rights (CR) such as the creation of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) (2005), the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009), National Policy for Children (2013) and the National Plan of Action for Children. "Despite these provisions and a roadmap that links the policy objectives to actionable programmes, children in street situations face huge challenges in realizing their basic rights to education, development, health, protection and wellbeing," Dr Seth said.

Street children, rag pickers, vagabond, runaways and orphans committing petty crimes for subsistence or begging in the country, fall within the category of "Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP)" and "Children in Conflict with Law (CCL)" as described in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The primary responsibility of execution of the JJ Act, 2015 lies with the state governments. The Centre has not conducted any survey or maintained data of such children.

The National Policy for Children affirms the Government's commitment to the realization of the rights of all children in the country. It recognizes every person below the age of 18 years as a child and that childhood is an integral part of life with a value of its own, and a long-term sustainable, multi-spectral, integrated and inclusive approach is necessary for the harmonious development and protection of children. The policy has identified survival, health, nutrition, education, development, protection and participation as the undeniable rights of every child, and has also declared these as key priority areas.

The Women and Child Development Ministry launched the National Plan of Action for Children in January 2017 in pursuance of the NPC, 2013. The Ministry is implementing a centrally sponsored scheme namely the Child Protection Services (CPS) Scheme - Mission Vatsalya under which support is provided to States and UT Governments for delivering services for children in need of care and protection and in difficult circumstances including rehabilitation of children living on the street situations. The Child Care Institutions (CCIs) established under the scheme support inter-alia age-appropriate education, access to vocational training, recreation, health care, sponsorship etc.

Dr Seth said that the health of the country's children is integral to any vision for its progress and development. He said the United Nations Convention of Child Rights and in its General Comment (GC) 21, provides authoritative guidance to States on developing comprehensive, long-term national strategies for children in street situations using a holistic, child rights-based approach. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has also provided a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the care and protection of children living in street situations through the application of different legal mechanisms and benefits under different schemes and programmes of the government.

"The street children experience multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACE) during their periods of growth and develop a range of short, medium and long-term health consequences," he said. The term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) collectively encompasses child abuse and neglect and includes key elements of family dysfunction and a child's social environment.

Dr Seth, who is cofounder of BUDS, said that short-term health consequences on children may include regressive behaviour that interferes with developmental milestones, sleep disturbances, impaired physical and mental health and educational difficulties. "The long-term adverse health consequences of adversities in childhood can lead to development of early onset of several adult diseases such as depression, substance abuse, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and even shortened lifespan. The state of children in street situations is a huge public health problem," he said.

"The street children encounter several barriers in accessing healthcare including cost, discrimination, long waiting time in public health systems, distrust and loss of daily wages. The role of supportive adults and nonprofit organizations in facilitating children in street situations access healthcare through public health systems is crucial," he added. Referring to the work done by BUDS, a nonprofit organization working in four states of north India, he said it provides access to health care by mobile health van clinics and "creates a welcoming community outreach model through drop-in centers (DIC)".

"The DIC are safe spaces in urban slums and backward villages which provide comprehensive health education, prevention and promotion of healthcare, nutrition, alternative functional literacy education and ultimately empowering the marginalized street-based children and youth to mainstream education through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and livelihood opportunities through vocational skill development," he said. "However, given the scale and magnitude of the problem, we urge our government, policy makers, local elected legislators and representatives, civil society and allied nonprofit organizations to provide resources, innovate region-specific strategies and optimize access to healthcare, development and wellbeing to street children throughout the entire country. The voices of children matter. By taking care of them, we are nurturing India's future," he added. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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