India’s Street Children
India is home to 11 million street children. Some are orphans, some run away from abuse, neglect, or arranged child marriages, others are simply young and misguided. They run to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, dreaming of a better life. The reality is never what they had hoped.
Sorting fact from fiction
One common rumor is that all kids begging on the street are a member of “the mafia.” None of the kids I have spoken with In Delhi about their experience have any personal or second-hand knowledge of anyone begging for any such mafia. In fact, they looked confused by the question. The Delhi police department has even come out saying there is no begging mafia in Delhi but that doesn’t stop people from using the conspiracy of one to justify their own indifference towards those who live in poverty.
Life on the streets
If kids are not able to quickly find work, most turn to petty theft. This lifestyle is exhausting and degrading so the kids often turn to drugs for an escape. Most huff glue because illicit drugs and even alcohol are far beyond their financial reach. Marijuana is also somewhat common. I was told that not all of the kids begging in the street are homeless. Some have parents who are unable or unwilling to work so their children resort to tireless begging. Some have parents who DO work but don’t earn enough. Others are part of the 11 million Street Kids, working and living on the streets without any parental involvement whatsoever.
(Note: There is foster care in India, but it is somewhat complicated and there is a disconnect between policy and actual practice, allowing many children to fall through the cracks.)
Salaam Balaak Trust: An NGO dedicated to helping India’s street kids
In comes Salaam Balaak Trust an amazing nonprofit that provides shelter, food, education, basic medical care, and so much more! It’s a great program and I’m not the only one who thinks so. At their main office, the walls are lined with images of members of the NGO posing with Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton, and Prince William.
What you can do if you see a child in Distress in New Delhi and how Salaam Balaak Trust can help
A few years back they partnered with the Indian government to respond to emergency “child in distress” calls. Now, if you see a homeless child or a child in distress, you can call the child helpline by dialing 1098. A social worker from Salaam Balaak Trust will go and talk to the child before the police reach. They then work hand-in-hand with authorities to get these kids any and all help that’s needed. Sometimes that is reuniting them with family members (based on the child’s wishes) other times this means moving them into one of their children’s homes where there is a full-time staff to care for them.
They have worked with the police to set up greeting areas inside the railway police stations. The hope is to get to the kids right as they arrive instead of after years of hardship when they are less susceptible to accepting help.
Not all children are willing to move off of the streets and they meet these kids where they are at. Centers are open for events like weekly movies where kids can come and relax in a safe place (the one is visited in Delhi was above a police station). Healthcare is free for low-income individuals in India, but children who are running from something or who are drug dependant can be reluctant to seek care. During these hosted events, the kids can get medical care on-site as needed.
The Delhi walking tour
Sallam Balaak Trusts offers walking tours for visitors. You will see a bit of Delhi and will learn more about the organization. You may have the opportunity to meet a few of the kids who attend their daycare program but the kids in full-time care live in homes elsewhere and not subjected to the daily tours.
Kids in the daycare program usually live on the streets with their parents. For example, one 4 year old that I met has a father who works in the day as an autorickshaw driver. He earns very little and is homeless. The boy attends the free daycare. He returns to his father after his work is finished where they find a place to sleep for the night.
The street walk program serves to give the kids confidence in their presentation and English skills. After turning 18, they can no longer live in a home through Salaam Balaak Trust so is also a way for them to make a living and for the organization to crowdsource funding.
To watch a portion of my tour with Salaam Balaak Trust press play below!
More ways to help
If you would like to do more, they have a volunteer program as well. If you are especially skilled or talented in a particular way, you can hold a class or seminar for the kids to expand their skill set. Dentists and doctors can treat the kids or provide an educational seminar. These interactions are more structured so that there are no newly formed bonds that just end a few days later. If you are in India long-term, there are even more options. For example, I teach weekly computer and photography classes.
Salaam Balaak Trust Success stories
My tour guide had a great early childhood, his mother left when he was 4 but his father gave him everything he could want for. Then when he was 8, his father tragically passed away from tuberculosis. He spent the next several years sneaking onto trains and traveling throughout India. Finally, he found an organization (Salaam Balaak Trust) to help. After 3 months of rehab, he moved into one of their residential homes. He is now about to graduate high school, already lives independently in his own apartment and is applying to college scholarships in the U.S.! He manages by working Part-Time, as a salaried employee conducting street walks tours in Delhi through Salaam Baalak Trust.
At the end of the tour, you will see a wall of success cases including an MIT fellow who made Forbes list of 30 under 30. They only represent a fraction of successful adults and is one of my favorite parts of the tour!
Delhi street kids tour details
The tour costs 400 rupees which is about $7 but you can give however much you’d like. All of the proceeds go directly to the kids. If I remember correctly, they only have about 40% of their operating costs covered by government funds, so they really rely on private donors. Scheduling a tour through Salaam Balaak Trust is a GREAT way to make a small impact.