THE CHILDREN

One can only begin to imagine the heart-breaking brutality of life on the streets for a young child in India.  Every day brings a life-and-death struggle for food;  every night a life-and-death struggle for safety and survival.

What Brings the Children to the Streets?

There are many individual, heart-breaking stories to be told about how children end up living on the streets.  There are, however, some common themes:

  • Their parents can no longer support them and send them off, or dump them, to fend for themselves.
  • Their parents are extremely ill or die; there are no other relatives to help them, and the children must survive somehow.
  • Parental abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, sexual) cause the children to run away from home.
  • Children do something that causes them shame or guilt, so they run away from home to avoid punishment.
  • Ignorant and illiterate parents sell their children for slave labour, begging or prostitution.
  • Other oppressive circumstances in the family home cause children to run away.
  • Boredom with village life, and falling-in with “the wrong crowd”.  For some, it’s the exciting possibility of a new life that causes them to run away from home.  If only they knew…

Trapped Children

There’s another group of children that Ravi Rai describes as “trapped children”.  These are the children who do not run away from home, and yet all the ingredients are there for an extremely traumatic childhood, and very little hope for a healthy, productive adult life.  Their parents are illiterate and ignorant in life’s possibilities, and so they don’t send their children to school, instead making them work from a very young age.  The children are literally trapped in a poverty and illiteracy cycle, and they stay there through a combination of fear, loyalty, and not knowing any better.

The Challenges for Children on the Streets

Life on the streets is a matter of survival.  Every day, there’s food to find; shelter to find; safety to find.  All that, from a young age, causes them to develop and hone their sly skills, their cunning, their guile.

There are many adults who will try to coerce young children into working for them  -  in begging, in drug-trafficking, in prostitution etc.  Children can be kidnapped and sold for child-labour.  They can be deliberately mutilated or maimed, just to increase their begging potential.  Or they can be led into sniffing, drug-taking, alcohol or anything else that might ease their emotional pains.

Time after time, these children have their trust betrayed, and they pay dearly for that.  And so they become very distrusting of others; and distrusting of genuine help, even when it is offered by those who are trustworthy… like Children of Mother Earth and its Outreach Program.

The Challenges at Our Centres

Children at GorakhpurWe wish we could say that it is all plain sailing once a child joins one of our centres.  Of course, there are major improvements in the children, and these are described in Positive Outcomes.  There are also challenges along the way…

Because the children have been betrayed on many levels over (potentially) a long period of time, there are sometimes issues with discipline.  The children have lived without boundaries for so long, and do not necessarily take well to the concept of leading a more disciplined life, involving duties, responsibilities, schooling etc.

It may take some children quite a while to break years of habits around stealing and bullying.  Some may have spent years “living on the edge”, and may find that a quiet, domestic life lacks excitement, and so they deliberately make trouble to “fire up the adrenalin”.  Others may be extreme loners who have trouble fitting in with the other children.  A large number of the children come to us with very low self-esteem, and this can also lead to behavioral issues in the centres.  This is why we put a greater emphasis on their emotional issues, using counselling and emotional process work with the children.

All of these issues tend to be transitory, and they test us from time-to-time.

Read some of their heart-breaking stories and the positive outcomes they achieve.