India: Street children lead the way

On the 13th April 2018, a 13-year-old girl living on the streets of Kolkata's Red Light District challenged the West Bengal Commissioner for Protection of Child Rights to help her and her peers access their rights.

She was one of five young people on CINI's Street Champions programme to speak in front of the Commissioner at street child network meeting hosted by StreetInvest and CINI.  All of the Champions live on the streets in some of the most dangerous areas of Kolkata, and had come to the meeting to represent 60 of their young peers, presenting their opinions and ideas about how to action change.

The Street Champions programme, supported by CLSA, is designed to empower street children to advocate for their peers by equipping them with leadership skills, and giving them a platform. The programme is set to continue next year, with Street Champions presenting to child protection committees and community every month as well as StreetInvest network meetings.

"It was incredible. They spoke with such composure and confidence. It was inspiring to watch. The Commissioner listened closely and said she was committed to hearing more." 

Jacob Brunner – Partnership Development Manager - StreetInvest 

These network meetings form part of our strategy in Asia, which is funded by Red Nose Day. They bring together NGO workers, academics, and government officials and introduce them to the principles underpinning the United Nations General Comment on Children in Street Situations. This network meeting was the culmination of months of work, with 80 people attending to hear the young people speak, a huge increase on the 19 individuals who had attended the Kolkata event in November the previous year.

Kolkata has an estimated street child population of nearly 22,000, and CINI has been working with such children for 30 years. They have strong connections with other organisations, public service providers and academics across the city and their reach is growing. After the April network meeting, 20 more NGOs expressed interest in joining the network and committing to their aim of making Kolkata a child friendly city.

"The problem is that while we all want to help street children, people's opinions on the approach is very different. We need to overcome this." 

Babu Dey – Street Work Team Leader - CINI 

Babu Dey is a key figure in our strategy. He came to CINI as a child living on the railway platform, and his incredible journey has since taken him from living on Kolkata's streets to leading CINI's street work team. In his role as StreetInvest’s Global Trainer, he has travelled all over the world, from Rio to Russia to the UK, to share his expertise.

Babu was one of the main leads on the Street Champions programme, which now has over 60 participants and is one of his proudest achievements from the last year.

"We need to give these children safe spaces and platforms to ensure that their voices are listened to." 

Babu Dey