KATHMANDU, April 16: If one was to put himself in the shoes of a street urchin, such would be that person’s prime concerns: “Where will I sleep tonight? Will I get any food today? How long will I sleep and fight hunger if I sniff some dendrite?”
People complain about the street children pestering them for money and food. They are also violent to the extent that they hit people if money or food is not given to them.
Perhaps it is wrong for people to expect such kids to have any sense of social etiquette since they have nobody to teach them so. Nor do they have anything to lose in return for their misbehavior.
The street children are not only suffering from severe health problems such as HIV/AIDS and abdominal and skin-related diseases but also from harsh mental conditions.
On the occasion of yet to be declared “International Street Children’s Day,” Hearbeat, an organization working to support the street children, hosted an interaction program with Anik Rahman, an activist from Bangladesh, other NGO members and social development students to discuss street children who spend most of their time on the streets and in slum areas.
Roshni Silwal from Heartbeat informs, “The number of street children in Kathmandu has been rising due to the lavish facilities that some NGOs and INGOs give them, even though occasionally. Most street children in the Kathmandu Valley (are found to have) run away from their villages or have been trafficked by their own parents or relatives for labor and prostitution.” The root cause for the existence of street urchins in the capital city of Kathmandu, for example, is illiteracy and unemployment in their own native rural areas.
Although there is no data on street children, there are 5,000 to 6,000 street children in Nepal, and Kathmandu alone has 1,500 to 2,000 of them, according to the estimated data of Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) in 2010.
While Anik informed that the number of street children in Dhaka is 2.1 million, he also added, “There isn’t any fluctuation in the numbers, but due to the efforts of some enthused youth organizations, there has been a drastic change in the behavior of those children.”
He also shared a shocking possibility for the horrid conditions of street children: that is the government’s sly motives to exploit street children for getting foreign grants.
“I was amused to see many street children along the way while accompanying the UN Resident Coordinator of Bangladesh. Police usually clear passersby on the streets when foreign delegations visit the country. Then why were such kids lined up?”
Similarly Juju Kaji Maharjan, founder of Heartbeat, shared a recent experience: “A reputed government official told me at an event that the government doesn’t have any budget separately allocated for street children, ‘so we can’t do anything to support your efforts.’ ” This conveys that the government considers such children unwanted in any case, so why bother about them at all?
Maharjan has been asked by a junior police officer to stop running his “Tea for Free” campaign in Mahankal, citing that the kids are disturbing the area and are involved in crimes. The Tea for Free campaign provides tea and doughnuts to the street children every Tuesday.
Hearbeat is currently running a three-month Rs 10 campaign to support the education of five underprivileged children in various places. Two of the children are in Gorkha, one is in Pokhara’s prison, and two girls are from Kathmandu.
Nine-year-old Ishwara and four-year-old Ishu are forced by their parents to beg in the Mahankal Temple area.
“Our parents teach us different methods to beg. Our family lives in a rented room for which we have to pay Rs 1,000 per month,” they say. Their father collects tariff in a pay parking area and the mother also begs. The two girls don’t know what the value of education is but they wish to go to school while looking at kids of similar age in uniforms.
Although organizations such as Heartbeat have been putting in efforts to protect, educate, heal and support the street children, it is the root of the problem that should be plucked.
If problems such as unemployment, illiteracy and health concerns were taken care of by the collective efforts of both the government and social organizations, the moniker “street children” would disappear. Sadly, however, indifference seems to have overtaken kindness.