Understanding India’s destitute children

Understanding India’s destitute children

A volunteer who wants to contribute to the well being of destitute children needs to understand the background and circumstances of these children. Destitute children are children, largely between 7-18 years of age, who don’t have access to bare essentials–like appropriate food, shelter, water, care and protection - that are needed to live a healthy life.

When do children become destitute?
Children in India become destitute in the following circumstances:
When they lose both parents.
When they are willfully abandoned or surrendered by their parent(s) to others. This can happen when parents are very ill or too poor to look after their children.
When they run away to avoid abusive relationships or violence at home or school. This violence triggers anger or fear and drives the children away from home.
When they fall prey to drug abuse, trafficking or gambling in their neighborhoods.

What do destitute children do?
Some destitute children continue to stay with parents or others and resign themselves to their circumstances. Others find their way to towns and cities in the hope that they will have a better life. Here they live in slums, or on streets ∕railway platforms.
Some become victims of trafficking for domestic work, beggary, pornography or sex trafficking. Others become rag pickers or labor at construction sites, dhabas, tea shops, mechanic shops, garages, etc. Yet others take to thieving and get on the wrong side of law.
They often work in strenuous and hazardous conditions for limited wages. They continue to experience violence and repeated threats to their lives on the streets, in the slums or at their workplace.They frequently smoke and drink, perhaps to cope with their stresses. Thus, their physical ∕mental health and safety remain compromised.

What do destitute children need?
Children who are destitute are mostly illiterate. As a result of repeated exposure to threats and violence, they find it difficult to learn social skills. They may become violent, depressed or anxious. This combination of factors could reduce their ability to lead a caring, responsible and healthy life.
To become caring, healthy and responsible citizens, they need access to a safe home, nutritious food and good healthcare. They need caring and trustworthy adults, whom they can turn to for help and comfort. Building their trust in others could be challenging, given that trusted adults (like parents or relatives) have let them down in the past.
They also need help to prepare for the future. For this, they need to (a) overcome emotional disturbances or anxieties through counselling and other interventions; (b) overcome addictions; (c) develop confidence in themselves,(d) acquire life skills as well as the knowledge and skills for gainful employment.
These are precisely the areas in which volunteers can help.