Giving India's Kids Hope and a Future

By Gary Lane
CBN News
November 7, 2007 - BANGALORE, India - About 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 in developing countries are forced to work, the International Labor Organization says.

Nearly half of them sacrifice going to school to work full-time. They are, in essence, children who are being robbed of their future.

Children of the Streets

They're seen just about everywhere in India's largest cities: poor and homeless children living and hanging out on the streets.

Some hustle enough rupees here and there to pay for an occasional plate of rice.

An expanding economy is creating new wealth and opportunities in India.

But in cities like Bangalore, thousands of young children and teens have yet to benefit from the economic boom, according to Sajan George, the head of The Global Council of Indian Christians.

"We have about 800,000 orphans, street children, children under bonded labor. This is a large number of people in Bangalore City itself and they're being robbed of their youth and childhood," George said.

When twelve-year old Sangeetha was nine she spent her days rolling incense sticks instead of attending school. She earned the equivalent of 20-cents per day.

"I didn't like it.hands are very painful, fever, cough.I felt very sad," she said. "I wanted to come to school and study well."

George explained, "Incense stick - first of all what they are using is chemicals and they are not using any gloves, no protective measures."

Working hours, he said, can span anywhere from 14 to 15 hours - perhaps even longer. And that is only part of what these children suffer.

"Many of these girls are also being abused by the people over there and they don't think that it's an offense to do them. They think it is their right as an upper caste to go ahead and misuse these women," George said.

Reaching out to India's 'Untouchables'

Many of these kids are Dalits - the so-called untouchables - the lowest class in India's caste system.

Poor and uneducated, many Dalit children are entrapped into a street culture of drugs, crime, and prostitution.

Young Kumar, David, and Preeah are among the homeless here in Bangalore. They live in a makeshift shelter - nothing more than bamboo and some grain sacks.

But there is hope for these children. A Christian ministry, The Yuvalok Foundation, is offering them schooling. Some of the poor and homeless kids receive education and vocational training there.

The Christian ministry began ten years ago as an outreach to so-called rag pickers. Rag pickers are children who pick through garbage searching for bottles and other recyclables.

Today 260 younger kids ages three to ten attend classes at Yuvalok and 150 older children receive training through their child labor project.

Some live at the foundation and all are given health care, meals, and spiritual nurturing.

"We are not content with what we are doing," said the Yuvalok Foundation's D.P Daniel. "By God's grace people are coming and saying you are doing a good work, but there are thousands of kids who are still waiting to hear that Jesus loves them. We want this vision to go out to the entire church and each Christian take this responsibility of ministering to the poor." 

Optimistic About the Future

Young Sangeetha says she's glad to be off the streets and in the classroom.

"I like my teacher," she said. "I study very good now. I'm a good student."

Sangeetha is optimistic about her future and says she will work hard to become a computer engineer.

"When we begin to see the lives of these kids being changed, they go back to their communities and then their families, they're going to tell others what God is doing in their lives," Daniel said.

These Christians are investing in the lives of Indian children - children that would otherwise be on the streets - giving them a hope and a future.

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