‘Balaknama’, a newspaper that highlights the problems faced by Indian street children, is also a tool to change their lives.
Damayanti, 12, moves fast along the queue of cars waiting for the green light in one of the busiest streets near the New Delhi railway station. She sells copies of ‘Balaknama’, the voice of children, newspaper to the drivers, which for more than five years now, has become the voice of street children of New Delhi, who write and produce it and make some money by selling it. The newspaper costs two rupees (10 rupees are 12 Euro cents) and it is currently selling five thousand copies in Hindi and three thousand copies in English. Five thousand street children are involved as writers, producers, photographers and distributors of ‘Balaknama’.
The newspaper director, Chandni, is only 18 years old. She says: “Balaknama has become my identity. When I started to work for the newspaper, my relatives were rather sceptical, but now they are amazed by the results I have reached”.
Chandni was only five when her parents decided to emigrate to New Delhi from Bardilly in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India, in search of work. Being the oldest among her brothers and sisters, Chandni was the one supposed to work in order to support her family economically, therefore she was denied the education that could enable her to escape the poverty trap, even though studying was her great dream.
She tried to sell flowers on the streets, but the police forbade her to do so. In 2010, some members of a non-governmental organisation, the Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action, (CHETNA) arrived at the place where Chandni lived, a slum consisting of a hundred sheet metal and mud small houses, and they offered free tuition to the children living there. Chandni was willing to start studying, but her parents were against the idea. After long talks with the CHETNA members, Chandni’ s parents allowed her to attend classes.
The NGO also promoted the creation of the newspaper run by street kids. A few months later ‘Balaknama’ was already being sold on the streets of New Dehli and Chandni became the newspaper director.
‘Balaknama’ was officially launched in 2012 not only to provide kids with an economic support, but to let their voices be heard in order to denounce the abuses that street children suffer by the police and the several merchants who exploit them.
Gowri is a kid who sells peanuts at the Nizamuddin railway station in the morning and collaborates as a ‘Balaknanma’ reporter in the afternoon. He says: “It’s important to listen to the voice of kids. Adults often do not tell the complete truth”. Kadam, after attending a photography course, has become the ‘Balaknama’ photographer. “The pictures I take on the streets reflect deep feelings and real situations, I am able to capture emotions, feelings much more than just images because I know how it is like out there”.
Shanno, a young ‘Balaknanma’ reporter, said “I ran away from home when I was eight years old, because I didn’t want to marry a man who was 30 years older than me. I suffered many bad experiences when I lived on the streets but the newspaper and the other kids’ stories gave me the strength to react”.
No one knows the exact number of the street children in New Delhi. Some NGOs estimate that they are about 51 thousand. About 23% of street children work as rag pickers to earn a few rupees. They sell materials they collect from dumpsites, bins and from along the roadsides. One can see them carrying their heavy load in a large bag over their shoulder. Another 15% of kids work as street vendors and as many others do not work and make their living by begging.
A relevant part of the newspaper is dedicated to stories of missing children. According to the Association of Human Rights in Delhi, every eight minutes a child disappears in India, and these disappearances are related to human trafficking. “Parents often ask us to publish their children’s pictures in our newspaper”, says Kalidas, one of the young editors of ‘Balaknama’.
The dominant themes of the newspaper are child exploitation, police abuses and forced marriages. The newspaper not only wants to denounce these issues but it also wants to promote proposals, such as dignified jobs, in order to face street children’s problems. “’Balaknama’ is not just a newspaper, but it is a tool to solve street children difficulties as well as a tool of socialisation. Thanks to this newspaper street kids can feel accepted and respected”, says Chandni.