They clean your car while you wait at the traffic signal, serve you tea at roadside stalls or just loiter around begging. And a number of them are carriers of the dreaded HIV or may be actually suffering from AIDS.
Deprived of childhood, education and a good future, a large number of street children in West Bengal, especially in Kolkata, have fallen prey to the dreaded disease through regular sexual exploitation and addiction to injectible drugs.
The fact came to the fore after the state Health department conducted a study recently and identified this group as the highly vulnerable �bridge population group�.
The conclusion was based on findings of random HIV tests on several children, which found quite a few of them positive for HIV, their behavioural pattern, their living condition, etc.
R S Shukla, special secretary of state Health department and director of the West Bengal State HIV AIDS Prevention and Control Society, said: �Street children are vulnerable to HIV infection for various reasons ranging from injectible drug use to sexual exploitation. The study gave us a clear picture of what was happening to these children as well as the fact that they are emerging as a high-risk group in spreading of the disease. The infections mostly go unnoticed. We are doing the needful to tackle the problem.�
The government has, meanwhile, drawn up a plan for targeted interventions among the street children through NGOs. The programme will involve identification of the children afflicted with the disease, causes of the disease, providing relief and rehabilitation to the children and medical support.
The detailed study not only pin-pointed groups of street children or their locations, but also the probable population under the risk. According to the study, Kolkata has the highest number of street children, 10,714, in the state, concentrated mostly in 208 pockets. The city is followed by South 24 Parganas district, which has 907 street children in 26 pockets, and North 24 Parganas, where 15 pockets and 310 children have been located. The study surveyed all the districts and examined the nature of vulnerability and the population of each vulnerable group in each pocket. Information was also obtained about the reach of NGOs and their nature of work.
Apart from street children, the report has mentioned two other sections of society � truckers and migrant labourers who are potential carriers of HIV. According to previous reports, the three most vulnerable sections were sex workers, injectible drug users and men preferring sex with men.
�Street children are victims of various kinds of perversions, like sodomy, rape, and other paedophilic activities. Many are also drug addicts. Girls are more vulnerable,� said Subhasish Guha, associate professor, School of Tropical Medicine. �They are so marginalised that their infections do not come to light, nor do they get medical attention in time. We are providing free anti-retroviral therapy, yet hardly any street children come to us,� he added.