Re-evaluating best interests

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The month has gone by quickly. During the last two weeks, Chris and I have been interviewing social workers at SBT’s various shelter homes, as well as boys from the DMRC shelter home about their life stories and experiences. All of these interviews, along with the ones we did earlier in the month, help to shape our argument for re-evaluating India’s Juvenile Justice Act, particularly the principle that restoration of the child to the family is always in the best interest of the child.

When a child is received at a contact point, a file is opened and social workers at SBT collect information about the child, such as their family and well-being. The case is then passed onto the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), who decides whether the child should be sent back to their families, their home state or taken into SBT’s shelter homes. From all our interviews, we discovered that quite often the CWC is sent back to their families under the belief that the family is always the best for the child. But when these children come from broken, dysfunctional families that render the child susceptible to forms of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, can we still say that returning to the family is the best? It seems that it is not so much about family in the literal sense, but the normative conditions of a family – a healthy, supportive environment conducive to the child’s growth and personal development – which should be emphasised when looking at the principle of restoration of the child to their family. It is about being sensitized to these conditions and contexts during evaluation.

Throughout this project, I realised how important it is to step back and reflect what best interest of the child is. Is it listening to the child’s wishes because it is their own life, and they know what it is they want, and what they think is best for their mental, emotional and physical well-being? Do we as adults decide because we are older, experienced more, and therefore know better what is best for the child? How does one negotiate between these two? Aforementioned, it is a matter of being sensitive to these nuances and complexities as we move forward.

Chris and I will continue working on this advocacy report back in Edinburgh. We will continue polishing our legal argument, and emphasise this urgency of change by highlighting the range of vulnerabilities which street children are susceptible to. Eventually, we, SBT and lawyers will present this report to the government, in hope that change can happen and they can be more sensitized to the issues we raise in our report so that the best, and most appropriate form of support and care is given to street children.

To conclude, thank you to everyone at SBT who has supported us in writing this report, particularly Parvati, Devika and Adam who helped to organize interviews for us, and also to all our interviewees who took the time to share their thoughts, experiences and life stories.

Words by Loritta

 

Breaking the period taboo

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It is likely that a full four in ten Indian women do not have access to disposable sanitary towels. This is the case for the girls who live on the streets and are more focused on food, water, and shelter.

Mothers teach their daughters to use cloths. When there is nothing else to use, they resort to dirty cloths or even old newspaper. It is not just safe clean sanitary products that are needed, but it is access to safe and private toilets, too. They also need clean water for washing, a safe place to wash, and places to dry reusable products.

Reusable products or cloths must be washed and dried properly.

When they are dried in a dark corner, hidden away, out of sight and out of sunlight, this increases the chance of infection. Infection causes irritation, embarrassment, and further complications. When safe drying areas aren’t available, proper information and medical support are unlikely. Illness can emerge and last for years.
One of the most important ways to improve menstrual hygiene is to break the taboo that leads to women hiding their periods in dark corners. Lack of information and silence on the matter acts to fuel the stigma. The main barrier is a lack of education and especially education for men.
Girls in the care of the SBT children’s homes get good education about puberty, periods and sex. For the children on the street, their health and sex education is more likely to come from word of mouth or from watching porn on mobile phones. This lack of information can lead to dangerous attitudes towards women and unhealthy practices when it comes to menstruation.
Educating men and boys around menstrual health is important. But education of boys around sexual health and safe practices may be even more important.

A comprehensive “life skills” curriculum is taught in schools in India, and it covers many aspects of sex and sexuality. As with menstrual health those children not enrolled in school miss out.

Nevertheless, the legacy of sexual inequality is obvious. Public toilets for men are plentiful and free in Delhi. There are far fewer for women – and in all cases they must pay to use them. Condoms are cheaper here than the most basic sanitary products.
We have initiated a workshop on hygiene and sexual health for girls currently living on the street, run by older girls who live in SBT homes. The workshops are animated and provide a friendly reunion – many of these girls remember each other.

So far the workshops have been run by girls but we will expand these to include workshops run by young men, for young men, this weekend.

 

 

Instead of buying a cup of coffee, donate £2 to support street children’s education at SBT: https://www.friendsofsbt.org/#

 

Words by Rachel