Millions of street children without adult caregivers are drawn into drugs, crime, and exploitations. Some kids with parents are sent to beg on the streets, tapping on car windows or turning somersaults to get a few rupees, as I experienced in Delhi. The struggle to survive in urban slums is described in Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo,[i] and seen in films such as Born in Brothels, Water, and Slumdog Millionaire. Boo’s book describes her interviews over almost four years with scavengers who sneak or steal garbage in a Mumbai slum near the airport. Life is about survival, trying to get enough money to pay off the police who expect bribes or feel free to beat poor people—including children, hoping not to get injured or infected rat bites and end up in the public hospital where the medicines are stolen and sold on the black market and nurses don’t touch their patients, where life is so hopeless that some drink rat poison and some end up sleeping and dying on the streets. The ones who survive work all day and avoid sniffing white-out bottles like young Abdul or work the pervasive in every aspect of government corrupt system for their advantage like Asha, who also sells her body for extra money that helps puts her daughter through college. The government schools are worthless so some parents sacrifice to send children to private schools where the teachers teach. Women are often the strong ones when their husbands are alcoholic or ill. Even the nuns who run the nearby orphanage sell donations meant for the children. Photos of the Annawadi slum are available.[ii]
[i] Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random House, 2012.