The little children in
street situations now have a reason to rejoice. Commonly called ‘Street
Children’, more than 20 lakh Indian children live without access to safe
care, nutrition, health and education. To me, they are like the little
flowers by the roads who survive despite our collective indifference.
Recently, I was invited to Delhi to become a part of a partnership
between the government, NGOs and citizens that will change the lives of
children who are forced to live on the street. For the very first time,
India now has a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Care and
Protection of children in street situations. The purpose of the SOP is
to identify processes that should be set in motion once a child on the
street has been identified as a child in need. These processes would be
within the existing framework of rules and policies and would create a
convergence of the various agencies. This is a set of guidelines that
define the roles and responsibilities of for all the stakeholders for
care, protection and rehabilitation of these children in a manner so
simple that even a child can understand it.
Coming back to the SOP, for the first time, they tell us, you and me,
and the different government agencies how to help street children.
Children in street situations are a remarkable example of the visible
who are invisible as they are in front of us all the time- none of us
pass a day without coming across a child on the street. They face
constant physical, mental and sexual abuse, many of them survive on
discarded food and hardly have enough clothes to cover their bodies. And
it is also true that many of us, cannot even look them in the eye
because of guilt, and sadness. They often don’t even have a proof of
their identity and when a calamity strikes and if we lose them, then
depressingly, they are not even a statistic.
All this is set to change when the SOP will be implemented in letter and
spirit by both the government agencies and we the people. The SOP calls
for issuing of Aadhar cards, health insurance and bank accounts. It
seeks to end the culture of working in various silos in the government
and most of all, seeks to empower us as citizens to speak out and stand
up for the rights of children on the street.
Launching the SOP along with the Minister of Women and Child Development
Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Ms Stuti Kacker, who is Chairperson of the
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and my friends from
Save the Children was a big celebration for me.
In my capacity as an artist and communicator I have been striving to
create awareness about issues close to my heart, and children are most
special to me. When I see them smile, play, dance despite so much
adversity I am humbled, filled with gratitude, it reminds me what it
means to be a human being. It also breaks my heart to see lakhs of them
suffering, living in abusive and risky environments, but at the same
time I am overwhelmed by their resilience.
In fact, as I realised on my trip to Delhi yet again, sometimes children
do understand better and learn faster than us. While on a visit to a
government school bursting with energetic children, many of who live in
street situations, I was taught how to wash my hands even better than my
parents did! This effort to ensure good hygiene practices is part of a
drive by Save the Children to make schools safe places where children
also learn essential life skills. To try and return the gesture of those
lovely children I thought of teaching them the ‘jungle clap’, the
importance of which they grasped sooner than many adults in my
I have resolved to keep working for our children and I am pleased to say
that our Minister Smt Maneka Gandhi is the right person to ensure that
this SOP is implemented across the country. We as citizens have a
responsibility to help the government in this effort by spreading word
about the issues of children in street situations. We need to ensure
dignity, access to health and education for these children and it is
possible by creating awareness, and engaging with issues. Change will
follow. I hope you will join me in true earnest in celebrating this
great beginning towards improving the lives of ‘Street Children’.