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Aadhaar discovers street kids

New Delhi, Feb. 2: An effort has begun to enrol India’s street children in the Aadhaar programme, which will allow them in principle to obtain school admission, open bank accounts and secure government welfare.

Some child rights activists, however, fear it will be a “cosmetic endeavour” in the absence of a government rehab programme, since few of these children have money to keep in banks or the resources to study.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Kushal Singh, whose initiative has led to the effort, however, argued that many street children want to study but are stymied by lack of identity proof.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) began issuing Aadhaar cards in September 2010 but street children had so far been overlooked because of the apparent difficulty of establishing their identity and address.

Last week, the commission wrote to the UIDAI, which accepted the proposal on Friday. On March 5, the commission will hold its first camp to enrol street children in Delhi for the Aadhaar scheme under a “Street to School” campaign, Singh told The Telegraph.

Sources said it could take “months or even years” to issue Aadhaar cards to all of India’s estimated 5 to 8 lakh street children. Singh and her team met UIDAI officials on Friday to discuss the challenges.

“Most street children live with their parents or guardians, mostly migrant labourers (in makeshift roadside or construction site camps). So it won’t be too difficult to devise a way to assign them the cards,” she said.

Some street children, though, have no guardians and live on railway platforms or near tracks.

“As for them, we plan to draft local NGOs and government child welfare committees to introduce them for Aadhaar enrolment. Basically, these will be ‘I know this kid’ type of introductions,” Singh said.

If necessary, the activists will help the children get affidavits from gazetted officers that will serve as address and identity proof.

Singh said Aadhaar cards would be issued also to children living in orphanages or shelter homes.

“Aadhaar cards for street children is a good idea but they will be useless unless these children are given proper protection under the Juvenile Justice Act, which stipulates they be accommodated in shelter homes,” said child rights activist Rajmangal Prasad, a former member of the Delhi government’s child welfare committee.

“This will remain a cosmetic endeavour unless the government rehabilitates these children.”

The UIDAI has already issued 56 crore Aadhaar cards and hopes to complete its mandate of 60 crore cards “within weeks”. The remaining 61 crore cards are to be issued by the National Population registry, whose progress has been slow.

UIDAI sources said they had been thinking of bringing street children under the scheme with the help of NGOs, and had already begun issuing Aadhaar cards to inmates of some shelter homes in Delhi.