NEW DELHI: "When I was young, I used to be a rag picker. I also begged on the streets near the old Delhi railway station. There were many children there who used to do drugs.
Staying with them, I too became an addict. In that state I was unaware of my surroundings and what people were doing to me," testified a 16-year old girl, who has since been rehabilitated and now teaches other impoverished children to fight sexual abuse.
She recalled her experiences on a video released by NGO Chetna, and like her, many other similarly placed children have welcomed the five-day child sexual abuse awareness campaign titled 'Jagruk Raho, Chuppi Todo' being currently run by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).The youngsters believe that this would be reason for many street children to celebrate this Diwali.
The commission proposed to sensitise people at several places by way of street plays about children who face sexual abuse. Children once living on the streets and now empowered through NGOs believe, as one girl says, "these plays should be put up on a regular basis for lasting impact on the society".
The child victims have bitter memories. "I used to sell cucumber at railway stations and bus stops as my father was unable to raise us with his meagre income as a daily labourer," said a 17-year-old boy who came to Delhi in 2008. "The situation at the stations was terrible because children would become victims of men who offered them money for sexual favours."
A 24-year-old girl, who now teaches children at Chetna Foundation, remembered how on the road they lived on, people made lewd comments or tried to show them pornographic materials. "They also approached us to be sexually involved with them," she said.
In such conditions, children are often unable to voice their concerns because they are under severe stress. "Many girls are scared to speak out for fear that their parents will only blame them instead. In fact, many parents themselves are abusers," rued a 22-year old girl who had to fight with their parents to go to various workshops to learn a number of crafts. She now mentors young girls on how to respond to such incidents.
According to Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a comprehensive survey on the number of street children in the city is required. "If the government has data on children living on the streets, they could then find it easier to formulate a plan for them," he said. The victims themselves suggested that the government should sensitise policemen to the issue of child sex abuse — they claimed that children are wary of approaching policemen who almost always rebuff them.
NEW DELHI: As the city readies for Diwali revelries, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has decided to launch public outreach programmes to prevent the abuse of children at crowded places. The NCPCR — in collaboration with NGOs and the police — will reach out to the public in and around slums and resettlements under the banner of "Jagruk ho, chuppi todo" (be aware, break your silence).
To begin with, the commission proposes to sensitise people at seven locations by the way of street plays and a short film. The volunteers will exhort the public to stand up for any child who may be a victim of abuse. Locations in outer, west, east and northeast districts have been identified for this phase. The campaign will be extended to other parts of the city in the next few months.
Explaining the rationale of starting the campaign during the festival season, NCPCR member Rupa Kapoor told TOI that children were most vulnerable to abuse in crowded places at such times. Also, as the revelries lasted through the night, people in slums often left their children unsupervised or under the watch of neighbours and relatives.
Kapoor said the campaign would sensitise the people about the vulnerabilities and why silence wasn't an option if their child was subject to abuse. "Representatives of the area police station have been roped into create an interface between the police and people," said Kapoor. She said help was at hand in form of the NCPCR helpline — 9868235077 — and people could also seek assistance through the Childline on 1098.
"Based on the insights from the public outreach over the week, the campaign will be further firmed up," Kapoor said.
Till August 31, the NCPCR directly received or took suo motu cognisance of at least 400 cases across the country this year, as per data released under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR accounted for a significant number of these cases.
On average, the NCPCR looks into 75 cases a month.
Between 2013 and 206, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights too intervened in 356 cases of child abuse. Of these, 334 were disposed of, meaning the matter reached court and trial was started. DCPCR's own data put the number of cases handled annually at nearly 100.
A report released by DCPCR in 2015 showed that the average pendency of cases registered under Pocso Act in Delhi's children's courts during 2013-14 was as high as 85%. An analysis by the DCPCR showed gross violation of Section 35(2) of the Act, which mandated completion of trials as fast as possible.
Siddharth Behl who works with SEEDS, a disaster management NGO has embarked on a photographic documentation of the street children of India. He received grants from National Foundation of India to work on the project called ‘Ode to children’. “My project was about the lives of these children. Though they live with their parents, they are compelled to earn money either begging or selling trivial things on the streets. My focus was more on the children of migrant labour.”
Behl first identified the street-dwelling children before he set out to capture their images - they included, children performing acrobatics, selling toys and balloons, and begging at the traffic signals or other kinds of labour. The project also included lives of kids who have run away from domestic violence perhaps and live on their own,” he says.
“It took me some time to win their confidence,” admits Behl. But adds that once they opened up, it became easy.
As he documented their images, Siddharth got a peek into their lives, their livelihoods and their dreams.
He hopes his pictures encapsulate the strength and courage of these ‘gypsies’ as he calls them, as they shift constantly from one location to another for their survival.