With folded hands, 11-year-old Shiva*, in a video message, said that he has not eaten from the past three days and appealed the authorities to provide at least water if not food to him.
Shiva, while sending the message to CHETNA (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action), an NGO for street children, said him and his three younger siblings have not eaten properly since the lockdown was enforced in view of the coronavirus outbreak on March 25.
Sanjay Gupta, director of CHETNA said that this is one of the many such videos received by them since the lockdown was imposed.
India is currently under the biggest lockdown with around 1.3 billion people asked to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed 377 lives and infected more than 11,000 people.
Under lockdown, the government has imposed strict directive of restricting movement of people and ensuring they maintain social distancing. All non-essential movements have been restricted and people have been asked to self-quarantine themselves.
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But self-quarantining is a luxury not everyone can afford, especially street children who make their living by selling balloons, pens, and toys at the traffic signals.
“The street children are the most vulnerable population that do not have savings of even one or two days with them and are completely dependent upon external help. They are invisible children who live in areas which are not easily accessible,” he said.
Recalling the first three days of the lockdown, Gupta said that was the “worst” time when they received messages from these children crying of hunger.
“The children contacted us crying saying help us we have not eaten anything. The government sprung into action and started giving helpline numbers and we started passing them the numbers because we do not have (curfew) passes as we do not come under essential services. That system started working and food reached them but not in enough quantity,” he said, adding that these videos have been mostly received from Lucknow, Ghaziabad, and Delhi where the NGOs network is active.
“We made small groups of these street children earlier and have their mobile numbers with us. Do not think that they are street children so they do not have mobile phones. In a group of 12-15 children, one of them will have a mobile phone so we have established this connection and have managed to reached out to 600-800 children in Lucknow, Ghaziabad, and Delhi till now. These are the children who are giving us information of their plight,” he added.
Gupta said these children prefer to share videos as they feel they can express themselves better through videos and also show their living condition.
In another video, 12-year-old Beena* said she has seen a lot in her life right from an abusive father to absolute poverty but this lockdown has shaken them.
She appealed that regular meals be given to her specially at a time when she is not able to provide for her family.
The videos sent by Binny and Raman are among several received by the NGO in which children can be seen narrating their experience since the lockdown.
In these videos, other children can also be seen appealing for food and other essentials which they said even if they are getting, it is not in sufficient quantity.
The government has provided ration and cooked food facilities in many areas but Gupta said that these children need to be fed thrice a day.
“One of the biggest issues faced by us is that volunteers and public who distribute food think supplying food to them once a day is enough but they need to be fed thrice a day,” he said.
He said that another major cause of concern faced by them is that of their mental well being as they are locked in a small room the whole day with several other family members who are mostly bickering and abusing each other.
For the mental well being of such children, we’ve been using innovative ways to keep in touch with them, Gupta added.
“We send them messages or TikTok videos about how to keep safe and what precautions they must take,” Gupta said.
In one such TikTok video, a volunteer from the organisation can be seen telling children how can they wash their hands properly to stay safe.
“The idea is to keep them entertained but also be educational and teach them about coronavirus,” Gupta added.
According to some NGOs, the number of children on streets of India can be as high as 20 lakh out of which around 2 lakh live in the national capital.
(With inputs from agencies)