Among the most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, there are an estimated 150 million street children worldwide.
In India, more than 10 million children live on the streets and are forced into work.
But in New Delhi, one group of street children have started a unique enterprise – their own newspaper.
Jasvinder Sehgal has the story from New Delhi.
A group of children have gathered for an editorial meeting of their monthly newspaper Balaknama, which means the ‘voice of children’.
Each of them has brought stories of children living and working on the streets.
This month’s edition is a special one – dedicated to the recent ‘International Day of Street Children, which was celebrated on April 12.
The slum reporters share their stories with the editorial board.
Editor, 17-year-old Chandni, has a story about children living on railway platforms, that she heard from the kids living there.
“A few of them told me that the police force the children living at the railway stations to retrieve the bodies of people who are killed on the railway tracks. This is a dangerous situation for the young children,” said Chandni.
“The children say that if they refuse to do this, the police will not allow them to stay on the railway platform.”
Chandni has been a contributor to Balaknama since 2008.
After her father died she was forced to sell flowers at traffic lights to earn money.
She counts herself lucky that she met volunteers from an NGO, called Chetna.
“The NGO outreach program encouraged me to join a school and gave me a modest stipend to keep me away from street work. It also trained me as a reporter of their newspaper, Balaknama, which is completely staffed by children who live and work on the streets,” said Chandni.
The newspaper explores issues such as child sexual abuse, child labor and police brutality.
When the paper first started it was only four pages long, but it has since doubled. And when it is printed, it is sent all over the city, explains Chandni.
“Today, the monthly newspaper is sent to police stations, NGOs working on child rights, and government departments. It is priced at a token of two rupees, which is almost 2 cents. But it is given free to the children living on the street.”
The monthly newspaper has a team of 70 reporters between the age of 12 and 18, based in Delhi and in the neighboring states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Most of the street children reporters were recruited from learning centers run by the Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action group, or Chetna.
13-year-old Liza was scavenging and begging at the railway station before she found Chetna.
“I was addicted to cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. I used to stay at the railway station and rarely went to home,” says Liza.
“There I came into contact with the volunteers of Chetna. They told me about Balaknama but said that if I wanted to join I would have to quit all my vices. I managed to do it and am now enrolled in eight grade.”
The reporters at Balaknama are divided into two categories.
The children who cannot write, known as ‘talkative reporters’ dictate their stories to the ‘writer’ reporters.
Liza was initially a talkative reporter but has now been promoted as a writer. She believes her best story so far was about four child laborers.
“They were aged between 6 and 7 years old and were working at a roadside restaurant. I got them rescued with the help of my NGO and reported the story in my newspaper.”
Reports in Balaknama are often picked up by the mainstream Indian media.
One recent story even saw India’s National Committee for the Protection of Child Rights step in to take an action against the police.
Editor Chandni says she hopes the paper will continue to empower street children in India by giving them a voice – and create real change in their lives.
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