Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Homeless, facing identity crisis

Even as the nation celebrates its 60th Republic Day, Ajay is an 18-year-old for whom January 26 brings no reason to cheer. A runaway child who has grown up on the railway platform since the age of seven, Ajay suffers from an identity crisis today. Wherever he goes to seek work, the employer demands a proof of his identity. With no birth certificate or address proof, young boys like him exist as faceless Indians without the power to avail their fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

When asked about Republic Day, Ajay's reply comes as a shock. He says it's a time when people like him get beaten up the most. As part of security measures to prevent mishaps, platforms are cleared of ragpickers and beggars. "Around festivals and other important days like the Independence Day and Republic Day, the policemen get after us,'' he says.

When Times City spoke to other boys around 18-20 years old, they said that due to the tight security, collecting left-overs from the trains and platforms was difficult. For them, even managing one-square-meal by selling off the rags had become tough over the last two days. On a regular day, each ragpicker earns about Rs 150 from the trains' left-overs particularly mineral water bottles left behind by passengers.

While one of them, Karan, is lucky he has found work as a daily wage labourer at the station, his companions still grapple with the identity crisis and continue to survive on the money made clandestinely by selling what they find on the trains. They say that they don't want to beg outside temples.

Mohd Sayyad (19) shares a similar story. Ever since he got separated from his parents at the station in 1997, he has been hopping from one platform to another for survival. A contractor, who had agreed to employ him as a bed roll attendant on a train, offered a temporary job instead when Sayyad told him he had no identity proof. Sayyad hasn't been paid his wages for over two months now.

Sanjay Gupta of Childhood Enhancement Through Training & Action (CHETNA) an NGO working closely with children and young adults on platforms feels that though rules exist under the Registration of Birth and Death Act, 1969, a campaign is needed to get all such homeless, runaway, abandoned and streetchildren into the gamut of birth registration. And, the young adults be given some legal identity if birth registration is not possible. CHETNA, along with Plan India, is now planning an advocacy campaign in Delhi to get underprivileged children into the fold of birth registration.

According to the National Family Health Survey III India's social survey carried out in 29 states during 2005-06, over 59% children born every year are not registered with any civil authority. Only 27% under the age of five years have a birth certificate.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. "Yet, data shows we have the world's largest number of unregistered children. Under the RBD Act, 1969, institutions were set-up in all states to record births and deaths. Thirty-five years have passed since the enactment of the legislation, but birth registration is not satisfactory, showing large inter-state variations. Only about 38,000, out of the estimated 70,000 births everyday, get registered,'' Gupta added.

A survey shows that the children who don't have birth certificates are mostly the child labourers, migrated children, runaway children, those with acute illnesses, children of sex workers, those involved in begging and children from unwed mothers. According to sources in the MCD, which is in-charge of birth and death registration, these children definitely need to be brought into the frame. It feels NGOs will also have to come forward to take responsibility and get registration done.

Shanta Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said, "We're all for universalization of birth registration and emphasise on it in all our communications to the government. We completely endorse the need to get all children into the birth registration framework.''


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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