The Unloved Street Children


I am sure everyone would agree if I said that “small children are capable of evoking much love and compassion in our heart”. The sight of a small child playing and having fun automatically puts a smile on your face.

Many of us might even take a small break from our busy life, or at times stop for a moment to watch children playing, laughing and enjoying themselves. There might be many like me, who experience overwhelming emotions when we see a baby or a toddler, as the desire to cuddle them overpowers everything else.

And we would all usually agree if someone says, “Who does not love a child?” Yes, it is generally assumed that most people love children and feel joyful in their presence.

However, over time and experience, I have learned that this so-called “love” which people claim to feel for children is accompanied by many qualifiers.

When one wanders through the busy streets of metropolitan cities in India, it has become commonplace to see small children (around the age of 5 to 12) begging around traffic lights, near bus stops or under bridges. In fact, the sight of children begging around religious sites, railway stations, markets and shopping complexes has become so normal that people hardly feel any moral pangs when such children approach them for money or food.

Yes, I am talking about a special category of children – “street children” – who almost always do not qualify to receive people’s so-called love and compassion for children.

Are these street children not worthy to receive people’s love and empathy because they look dirty and shabby? Because their language is usually abusive and full of slang? Because at times they are involved in stealing and other abusive behavior? Or because they are not as innocent as children who are blessed with a caring family and a comfortable life? Or because most of them are addicted to drugs?

Yes, most of the street children look dirty and shabby. Their language is usually abusive and they often engage in stealing and many are also addicted to drugs. But isn’t such behavior just a manifestation of the harsh and hostile conditions they have to face in life?
There are three major categories of street children in Indian cities:
  • Children who live on the streets with their families. Some of them might have temporarily moved to the cities to earn money and might also return home. These children usually work on the streets and will often be seen selling flowers, handicrafts or begging near traffic lights or market areas.
  • Children who live on the streets by themselves or in groups, and have more or less no access to their families living in some faraway village. However, some of these children might travel to the cities every day or for a few days to work and then they return to their villages.
  • Children who live on the streets and have no ties at all with their families. They might be orphans, refugees or runaways.

Homeless and without a family, these children have to survive in the cities and are completely on their own. They have to organise their own food each and every day, and I am very sure there might be days when they don’t get anything to eat. If they steal simply due to the fact that they are starving, is this a crime? Is this a reason to treat them as criminals?

Yes, stealing is immoral and should, of course, not be encouraged. I agree. But is our abhorrence for the crime or for the small child who committed the crime because of the hostile conditions in which he or she lives? How can these children, living on their own, have any idea of hygiene, cleanliness, decent language or morality? They reflect the conditions in which they live.

People try to do their best for their own children, regardless of the latter’s weaknesses if any, but readily find a thousand reasons to become indifferent to the basic needs of street children, becoming annoyed by their weaknesses. Whatever people’s reasons might be, the reality is that street children, because of their destitution and helpless situations, fail to qualify to receive people’s love, care and concern.

The usual reaction of most people when street children approach them is to give such children a few coins or else shoo them away. And to most people it seems to be the right way to deal with such seemingly rowdy and dirty children who live on the streets. However, there are obviously some who offer such children food and talk to them with love and care.

However, most people living in metropolitan cities would readily agree if I say that a person, irrespective of his ‘good will’, would eventually fail to feel any lasting compassion for such children, because street children begging and pestering passers-by is extremely commonplace and rampant in the cities of India.

Moreover, it is also believed that such street children work for an organisation similar to the mafia and thus one should not dole out any alms to these children as it would mean encouraging the mafia.

Many NGOs are working to alleviate the situation of the street children and are trying to rescue them from illicit organizations. But does not every individual have a responsibility towards these children who are trapped in such terrible situations and who feel unloved? I am not talking about providing alms to these children. But can’t we at least shower some love on them; talk to them gently and make them feel cared for, maybe just for a few minutes. Why do people fail to realize that these small children are living without the love of a family?

Or is it that love has become a scarce emotional resource, to be given only to family members and friends? For whom are we hoarding love? Or is it that we are devoid of compassion altogether?


Image Title Author License
The Unloved Children of Streets The Unloved Children of Streets NITIN BHARWDWA CC BY-SA 4.0
Street child in India plays with goat Street child in India plays with goat pics_pd Public Domain (CC0)
Street_Child,_Srimangal_Railway_Station Street_Child,_Srimangal_Railway_Station Md. Tanvirul Islam GFDL

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