Rahul (name changed to protect identity) and his family have been recently resettled into a neighbourhood in Mahul, Mumbai. Rahul misses his old home in the eastern suburbs where he had a lot of space to run around and play. He used to study in a government school nearby, but now his family is unsure about sending him and his sister to school since it is very far. His father has taken up some work nearby, which doesn’t pay as much as his previous job. Rahul and his sister Meena help with the household chores. Their new life doesn’t give them the opportunity to play. Every night, they read books which their mother receives from the houses she works at. Rahul’s father feels that if he studies very hard every night, he might grow up to become a doctor, just like the poor village boy he was reading about in the papers the other day.
It is every child’s right to access quality education, healthcare, a safe space to express themselves as well as a healthy and nurturing environment. Childhood is a very critical time in every individual’s life. Our childhood experiences shape us as human beings. A childhood void of care and support and opportunities to grow, can lead to unresolved issues and trauma as we grow older. Not having access to resources that would aid in skill development, reduces the chances of marginalised children to upgrade their current lifestyle and have a brighter future.
We come across plenty of stories about poor children and adolescents, living in less than ideal conditions, studying hard with limited resources in dark and crowded spaces. Some of these individuals succeed and it becomes a major story which is highlighted in the media, till the next one arrives. While the grit and determination of such young children is commendable, I can’t help but wonder just how much more they would be able to achieve if they were provided with decent facilities. Besides, it is dangerous for children to use unsafe spaces. What about all those other stories about marginalised children being seriously harmed or missing out on opportunities due to lack of resources?
Urban development has often been exclusionary and impacted the weakest sections of society the most. Multiple industrial and/or development projects have displaced people in informal settlements. They have been removed from places they have always called ‘home’ and have often had to resettle in far off spaces that lack necessary facilities. These settlements are often far from erstwhile schools and places of work too, leaving families feeling helpless. Lack of education often pushes children into domestic duties, substance abuse, harassment and most unfortunately, child labour. Those who do manage to fit in studying in their extremely strenuous everyday life, often do so with plenty of struggle which they shouldn’t be experiencing at such a young age.
It is also important to note that within marginalised communities, women and people with disabilities, caste oppressed people are further disadvantaged.
In this regard, YUVA’s study, My Home My Hopes: Impact of Resettlement and Rehabilitation on Lives of Children in Mumbai, offers a detailed insight on how rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) has affected children’s lives. From a survey of 2,393 respondents (children and their guardians), across 10 R&R sites in Mumbai, the study looks at accessibility of services (education, health, recreation and play) and ‘seeks to understand children’s perceptions on safe spaces, habitat concerns, and the changed physical environment in R&R colonies with a view to formulate recommendations for a child-centred R&R policy’.
Some of the key findings include:
- Nearly 70 per cent respondent children missed school for 6 months after relocation, and around 10 per cent respondent parents added that one or more child from home dropped out of school permanently due to relocation.
- Lack of health services and facilities near R&R sites was highlighted by adult respondents (including issues of water scarcity, poor sanitation and hygiene).
- Play spaces in R&R sites were frequently unusable as they were used to dump garbage and nearly half adult respondents felt open spaces available were unsafe because of their ‘poor social environment ‘and widespread substance abuse.
- On asking children what amenities they require in their resettled R&R colony, 53.6 per cent answered they would like more open space (grounds and garden) and 10.2 per cent of those polled were satisfied and didn’t feel the need for any new amenities (majority such respondents had been resettled in the R&R colonies in Mumbai’s western suburbs). 4.8 per cent children felt their colony needed stronger safety measures (such as police beats, safe play spaces, etc). ‘While the gender difference in children’s demands for services needed in the colonies were minimal, a slightly higher percentage of boys asked for a gymnasium and a swimming pool and a higher percentage of girls asked for a library’.
The report contains important recommendations for policy makers, planning authorities, private developers and builders, municipal corporations, local law enforcement agencies and civil society, to ensure that rehabilitation is responsive to children and evolves with people’s needs. Checkout the detailed study for more.