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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 60  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 290-293  

Plight of street children: An explorative study from Varanasi, India

1 Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Junior Resident, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

Date of Web Publication15-Dec-2016

Correspondence Address:
Mona Srivastava
36/2 HIG, Kabir Nagar Colony, Durgakund, Varanasi - 221 005, Uttar Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-557X.195856

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Rapid pace of unplanned urbanization in the developing countries has resulted in a large proportion of children becoming homeless, leading to multiple children living on the streets. These children are highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Against this background, studies on the situational analysis of street children across India are needed; therefore, a study to assess the condition of street children in the city of Varanasi was planned. Street children registered with a nongovernmental organization were contacted. Four hundred and fifteen children were selected by random sampling, and this group was administered a semi-structured interview containing 35 items. It was found that all forms of abuse were common, but physical abuse (74%) was highest and the police (25.5%) was an important perpetrator. Younger children were much more vulnerable. The sample commonly had boys and between the ages of 10 and 15 years. It was concluded that these children need policies to be incorporated into the mainstream.

Keywords: Abuse, exploitation, perpetrators, street children

How to cite this article:
Srivastava M, Shareef N. Plight of street children: An explorative study from Varanasi, India. Indian J Public Health 2016;60:290-3

How to cite this URL:
Srivastava M, Shareef N. Plight of street children: An explorative study from Varanasi, India. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Mar 30];60:290-3. Available from:

The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF)[1] defines street children as “children for whom the street has become his or her habitual source of livelihood; and also who is inadequately protected, supervised, as well as directed by responsible adults.” Lack of any identification system, absence of a permanent address, wandering lifestyles, and temporary workplaces make this group of children difficult to locate.[2] As per the UNICEF, 72% of the street children are aged 6–12 years and majority of them are boys who are illiterate.[3] A 2009 study showed that they had a lack of shelter and basic amenities.[4] The simplest definition is one that the children have developed themselves, without a roof, and without roots… “roofless and rootless.”[5] These children are considered marginalized by multiple parameters. Usually, these children become vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.[2],[5] According to Mark W. Lusk, there are four categories of children found on the street, and the fourth category is the “real” street children.[6]

Street children as estimated by the last census of the Government of India were 1.8 million.[7] Twenty-three percent of the children had received some form of nonformal education while almost 20% had received some form of formal education.[8] Lack of a social status adult supervision and protection makes these children vulnerable to abuse and extortion.[2],[5] In a 2009 study, six types of abuse were found among street children; general abuse and neglect, health abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Verbal and psychological abuse was maximally reported. Older children and children with higher incomes were abused more than younger children and children with lower incomes.[4] These studies have covered various areas across India.[5]

The present study was conducted to assess the different types of abuse to the street children residing in the urban area of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Varanasi is a metropolitan city. There is a massive immigration from the neighboring rural areas and adjoining states.[7] Hence, this city was chosen for the study.

For the purpose of the study, abuse was defined broadly in terms of physical, social, sexual, and emotional. Abuse as per the definition chosen includes acts of commission and omission, such as child neglect, violence, forced to do unlawful activities, indulge in trafficking of drugs/liquor, and economic exploitation. Physical abuse was defined according to Anderson and Umberson [9] as entails beatings, burning or scalding, severe physical punishment resulting in actual or probable injury, deliberate poisoning, and suffocation. Sexual abuse includes sexual assaults, incest, genital fondling, and other activities, including exposure to indecent acts and involvement in child pornography and designed to lead to the sexual gratification of a sexually mature person. Social abuse includes socially depriving a child of respectful living, food, and education.[2],[3] Emotional or psychological abuse involved verbal abuse and belittlement, rejection, and acts designed to terrorize children which could cause serious “behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders” in a child.[6]

A baseline survey was conducted from January 2014 to April 2014 in collaboration with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) working with these children. About 1246 children were contacted by the volunteers. From the above population, a proportionate number of street children were chosen as the sample. Using systematic random sampling (every 3rd person), a sample size of 415 children was chosen. The sample size was chosen on the basis of feasibility. After the study sample was chosen, the study was conducted from May 2014 to July 2015. The NGO which collaborated conducts evening classes to provide education to the children. Majority of the data were collected by both the authors during the evening classes.

A semi-structured interview schedule consisting of 35 questions was designed. Items relating to all the variables such as sociodemographic details of the street children, duration and reasons for being on the streets, nature of work, income, expenditure pattern, place of stay at nights, leisure time activities, family background, education and other skills of the street children, deviant behavior and habits of street children, awareness of legal provisions, abuse/exploitation, health conditions, attitude toward life, opinion toward institutions, and awareness of agencies/programs. There were items exclusively to measure the abuse and exploitation of street children. As most of the study population was illiterate, the tool was administered by the researchers. It took about 15–20 min/child. The educated children were asked to fill the survey sheet on their own, with assistance if required. The survey sheet was designed in simple “yes” and “no” and “fill in” the blanks format.

After reviewing various questionnaires,[4],[6] abuse/exploitation of street children was measured by asking some questions. The answer “yes” was scored as 0 and “no” as 1. The study was approved by the Institute Ethical Committee.

The sociodemographic characteristics showed that a majority (48.90%) of the street children were in the age group of 11–15 years. More than 75% of them were males. A high percentage (79.93) of street children belonged to Hindu religion. More than 50% of them belonged to the reserved community. A considerable percentage (43.93) of them hailed from urban areas [Table 1]. The reasons for migration to the city were family discord, violence, false promises for employment, and good life. Majority of the children brought for work were for domestic use, and the main method employed for freedom was by escaping or running away from the employer. More than 86% of the children were illiterate; about 78% of the children were subjected to police atrocities. About 67% of the children accepted to being involved in unlawful activities. The various forms of abuse and exploitation of street children in the present study were physical abuse (78%), emotional abuse (66%), sexual abuse (15%), forced to do unlawful activities, forced to indulge in trafficking of drugs/liquor, child neglect (32%), and economic exploitation [Table 2]. Older street children were significant perpetrators of abuse in younger children. Most of the children lacked civic amenities and were not aware of the government laws formulated for their safety which could be beneficial to them.
Table 1: Sociodemographic profile of the street children (n=415)

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Table 2: Characteristics of abuse (type, perpetrator, escape methods) π (n=415)

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Street children are a large group of deprived and abused children.[1] An analysis of the literature revealed that multiple studies have investigated the plight of these children, but the data are old (1995–2005), and studies from Eastern India are lacking.[2]

The findings of the present study are in concordance with the available literature.[2] About 25.5% of the respondents were abused/exploited by the police. Various other studies also support the finding that police abuse street children, up to 8.1%–70% of the street children were harassed by the police across various studies.[4] Among the perpetrators, parents are also responsible for abusing/exploiting their children.[4] Our study showed that around one-fourth of the respondents were abused/exploited by their parents; Consequently, the reason for living on the street was family violence, especially so in the male children. The reasons related to the migration of street children to city revealed that 14.7% of the children were lured on false promises. In the present study, sample 12% worked as domestic servant, 21% in the small-scale factories, and 18% in the hotels and shops.

An average child had two major expenditures, namely, food and addiction and entertainment to some extent. The children in the group used chewable tobacco in large numbers; this can be attributed to the substance being a popular substance of abuse in this area.[8] The findings of the study have clearly demonstrated that the street children face various forms of abuse and exploitation. The perpetrators of abuse and exploitation include police, bigger children, local bullies/antisocial elements, parents, employers, and others.[2],[4] The younger children are more vulnerable to abuse.[2] The most common form of abuse was physical abuse (68%), and sexual abuse was present in 15% and 11% of female children reported to being abused. The rate of abuse reported by female children is below the figures reported in other studies,[2],[4] and this can be because the proportion of female children in the present sample was lesser than that of other studies. The findings show that the condition of this group of children more or less remains the same despite awareness and studies highlighting their problems.

The present study has various positives, namely, a good sample size, a robust study design, the tool being comprehensive yet simple; therefore, it covered a wide variety of factors. In addition, this study is the first from this particular area of India; hence, it will help in building a good database to make adequate policies to help this large group of neglected children. Considering the limitations, first, 100% of the street children could not be contacted; the present sample was largely illiterate; therefore, the tool was administered to them; hence, subjectivity in interpretation cannot be ruled out.

As suggestion for the future, proper intervention strategies for the rehabilitation of street children are needed. Their needs for security, shelter, basic amenities, and education ought to be addressed. Some kind of social security schemes need to be made and efforts to better their lot should be undertaken.[10]


We would like to acknowledge the cooperation obtained from the NGO “Sathi” and the street children for this research work.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

UNICEF. The State of The World's Children. Adolescence: An age of opportunity: UNICEF; 2011.3 United Nations plaza. New York. NY. USA. p. 4.  Back to cited text no. 1
Study on child abuse in India: 2007. Ministry of women and child development. GOI. New Delhi; Kirti Press. 2007. p. 64-6.  Back to cited text no. 2
UNICEF. Regional Consultation on Violence against Children in South Asia. Pakistan: UNICEF; 2005. p. 66-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Mathur M, Rathore P, Mathur M. Incidence, type and intensity of abuse in street children in India. Child Abuse Negl 2009;33:907-13.  Back to cited text no. 4
Available from: [Last accessed on 2014 Feb].  Back to cited text no. 5
National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NCCAN). National Child Abuse and Neglect Training and Publications Project (2014). The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act: 40 years of safeguarding America's children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. 2014.  Back to cited text no. 6
Census of India. Office of the registrar general & census commissioner. India. Ministry of home affairs.GOI. New Delhi; 2011.  Back to cited text no. 7
Government of India, Planning Commission. Children at Work, Ministry of Labor and Employment. Government of India; 2008. p. 92-4.  Back to cited text no. 8
Anderson KL, Umberson D. Child abuse. In: Kurtz L, editor. Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, 1 (A-E). California: Academic Press; 1999.  Back to cited text no. 9
Kombarakaran FA. Street children of Bombay: Their stresses and strategies of coping. Child Youth Serv Rev 2004;26:853-6.  Back to cited text no. 10


  [Table 1], [Table 2]

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