Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Going Up in Smoke

A study by an NGO has shown that there were around 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh of street children in Delhi alone with 80 percent of them indulging in rampant substance abuse. When will the government act to save them?

By Himanshu Pandey

“Bhaiya mujhe apne saath le chalo, mujhe yaha nahi rehna hai,” said 12-year-old Qasim while heading back to the company of his friends. Hailing from Meerut, Qasim was brought to Delhi some two years ago by a bunch of boys. He found friends among rag-pickers who were also drug addicts. His days are spent roaming around Yamuna Bazaar and picking up litter so that he could sell them to buy adhesives such as Omni and Dendrite to get a high.

Qasim is but one of many children who has lost their way in this haze of drugs in a big city. Their wide-eyed innocence has turned into drug-induced blank stares. Abandoned by their families, thousands of children between the ages of 8-14 years flee to Delhi every month in search of a better life. Either they are fed up of school, have had fights with their family or have been abused. They then come to a big city and find themselves in the grip of other drug addicts and therein begins the downward spiral. Drugs are sold by them to buy more drugs. Family, school and friends become non-existent for them as they move into the fringes of society.


A study by Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (CHETNA), an NGO working for the cause of children, found that there were around 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh street children in the capital. Almost 80 percent of them indulged in substance abuse and were on a continual high on marijuana (ganja) and hashish (charas). Those who can’t afford these were addicted to inhalants like whiteners, petrol and adhesives like Dendrite. Even if the children earn Rs 100 per day, a majority of it goes into buying of inhalants. Shockingly, the study found that street children buy intoxicants worth Rs 27 lakh daily in Delhi from various illegal sources.

A survey done by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2013 found that 34 percent of street children use drugs of all types. Following this, the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO run by activist and Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court regarding the responsibility of the state in it. The Court issued a notice to all state governments asking them to act. It’s been over two years, but the case is still pending.Street child 2 (1)

Rakesh Sengar, Director, Victim Assistance and Campaign, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said: “Most of the children come in trains and buses.  The number is enormous. This is a complete failure of the railways to follow the standard operating procedure set up by the Delhi High Court after the Khusboo Jain vs Union of India case (to provide shelter, protection and care and to ensure rehabilitation of those children who arrive or stay in railway stations).” Incidentally, Childline, a 24-hour helpline, received 38,22,081 calls in 2014, out of which four percent concerned missing children.

He added: “There is a need for a holistic approach from the government. There is no long-term planning on this issue. A shelter home like a porta cabin which is there in many places in Delhi is available but it is temporary. These children don’t have a future as they have to move out someday. They are also sexually abused by others of different age groups which forces them to move out of the shelter. Shelters should be provided in an age-appropriate manner.”

He said his organization had filed the PIL in the Supreme Court regarding an order to set up Bal Kalyan Samiti and observation homes in every district. While they are there in Delhi, there are none in Ghaziabad and Noida where many children flee to. “Even if there is a Bal Kalyan Samiti, no proper training is given to the staff.”


And even though there is a Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, street children continue to roam the streets of cities with no hope of shelter or food. They are forced to beg or work in menial jobs to survive. Even those who stay with parents are provided drugs by them to help them stave off hunger and cold. It’s easy for them to get drugs as they are easily available in local shops, said Rashi Anand, a founder-member of Lakshyam, an NGO working for child rights.

Take Sabir. He thinks he is 13 but is not sure. He is fond of adhesives and doesn’t want to quit. Belonging to a village in Uttar Pradesh, he fled to Delhi and has been living on the streets of Yamuna Bazaar with other addicts. Dragging a plastic bag on his back to pick up rags, he spends his earnings buying adhesives. His innocence was lost a month ago when he started sniffing these substances. He is now lost in a haze of drugs and doesn’t want to come back.

Dr Jayanti Dutta, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Lady Irwin College, said that drug peddlers use derelict buildings to distribute drugs. Later, the user also becomes a supplier to fund his habit and indulges in stealing, pick-pocketing and other crimes.

The psychological effects of drugs on children are devastating. Dutta said: “An adult getting converted to drugs is difficult as his stability of mind is stronger. On the other hand, a child is easily influenced and gets adapted to the scenario. If they resist, they are abused and assaulted by the ‘dadas’ of the area.”

It is obvious that a lot needs to be done to pull these children back into the mainstream. Union minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had said: “We are attending thousands of calls every month.” But the moot question is whether it goes beyond just calls or whether there is some follow-up action.

These children need all the help they can get.


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