Vulnerable souls

From Street to Hope
By Neela Dabir and 
Naina Athale.
Pages 294. Rs 750.

Reviewed by Ambika Sharma

WITH 300 million children across the world living on the streets, which is approximately the population of the United States, the world seems to be heading for a serious, urgent and rapidly growing socio-educational challenge. It is also a matter of concern that 40 per cent of these children are homeless and the remaining 60 per cent work on the streets to eke out a living for their families.

The book, which has made an in-depth survey of the problems facing the street children, has dwelt upon the fact that poverty and abuse have been described as the underlying reasons for these rising numbers and the violation of children’s rights acted as a contributing factor. Studies show that even North American countries like USA, Canada, Mexico, Honduras and Haiti have a large population of street children, contrary to beliefs that the problem was confined to the developing and Third World countries. The ever-increasing urbanisation has acted as a catalyst to substantially add up to this hapless population as it had led to a corresponding growth of slums. The rise in urban poverty limits employment opportunities thus adding to the problem.

While social factors like a weak-knead family network, especially breaking up of the traditional family structure which leads to lack of control on the children, has made them vulnerable to exploitation. High divorce rates, alcoholism and high-risk behaviour of the parents have played a crucial role in increasing the street dwellers.

In India the problem has a unique dimension, where almost half the children belong to the Dalit caste and other scheduled castes and tribes, which is a poignant by-product of the caste inequality existing in the country. This population residing below the poverty line comprise the other vulnerable class.

Apart from socio-economic factors, others like natural disasters, wars, internal and cross-border displacements also add substantially to the number of street children, as these render them homeless. However, the most alarming numbers comprise those orphaned by the world’s deadliest disease HIV/AIDS which is especially the case in the African countries. UNICEF estimates that there will be 20 million HIV/AIDS orphans by 2010.

While professing the need for a public-private partnership and involvement of faith-based and secular organisations, the writers have stressed that a coordinated approach of various organisations can help ameliorate the lot of these hapless children, albeit to a certain extend.

A case study of three international metro cities, including Mumbai, Los Angeles and Nairobi, has been undertaken so as to cite how despite vivid differences in the existence of street children, there were similarities in the social services, especially in the faith practises. It was observed that while the faith-based organisations (FBOs) working in these cities have a faith-specific approach, the provision of multiple services, including shelter, food, education, vocational skills, etc., prove to be more effective rather than the case of organisations which offer few services. Facing exploitation, these deserted children develop lack of faith and, therefore, find it difficult to initially repose trust even in the FBOs thus making their task arduous.

While the number of street children in Nairobi has been on the rise due to the prevalence of the epidemic HIV/AIDS the age group of those found in Los Angeles was found to be higher. The prospect of economic advancement is what brings these children to the metros, as the presence of funding agencies lures the poverty-stricken for better prospects. While the book is an attempt to present a holistic approach to the cause of these street children across three international cities, it barely provides a glimpse into their appalling situation. The overtly researched content appears mundane and lacks passionate study which can excite an avid reader or provide strategies to deal with the rising numbers.