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Cry security above a square meal

Streetchildren rate protection above hunger on their list of basic needs. While girls want to study, boys want vocational training. Male victims of sexual abuse are more likely to abuse other boys when they grow older, while female victims tend to protect potential victims. And they crave adult company. But above all, these “daredevil” kids are survivors with a capability of having fun, whenever, wherever.

These are a few facts that came to the fore on Thursday, at a workshop organised by the UK-based funding agency Save the Children. Participants included representatives from organisations like Goal, Prajak, Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Institute for Psychological and Educational Research (IPER), CINI Asha, Calcutta Samaritans and Loreto Day School, Sealdah. The purpose was to arrive at a consensus on the condition of under-privileged children, and what can be done to improve their lot.

For Save the Children, it’s part of a national exercise to assess their work, as well as that of their partner organisations, half-way into their four-year programme. The NGO concentrates its work in four areas: child protection, children in work, HIV/AIDS and education.

“Our main focus will still be on these issues, but we want to extend our work to micro projects,” explains Utpal Maitra, from the Delhi office of the agency, who is conducting the workshops in the four zonal offices — east in West Bengal, south in Andhra Pradesh, central in Gujarat and north in Ladakh.

From the discussions amongst the professionals from the various organisations, there emerged a profile of urban and rural under-privileged children. Although they lamented the lack of concrete facts and figures, there were certain definites — like although there has been an increase in the number of children going to school in the past few years, the maximum dropout happens in Class VII. The reason: parental and economic pressure to earn a living. And, while the age of marriage is rising, the majority of girls still get married off before they turn 16.

Urban streetchildren, those who live in slums, on pavements and station platforms, are candid and confident, but aggressive and undisciplined, hyperactive and lively. Yet, they seek attention, appreciation and affection due to parental neglect. They are satisfied with very little, but they want independence above a source of sustenance, even if it’s the cold, hard streets versus a warm, loving home. Education is not appreciated because of the structured manner of teaching.

The most worrying trend, explain these veterans in the business of helping under-privileged children, is that sexual abuse is a part of life, occurring sometimes when they are barely two years old, which they accept in return for security. The outcome is either withdrawal or over-exposure. And sex is accepted and understood by age five.

Ending with a presentation by teenagers Najma and Sujata from Emmanuel Ministries, the result of an exercise on Wednesday by Save the Children, with kids from various NGOs, they felt the most important things in their lives were protection, security, shelter and food. The basic necessities for a life.

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