Bangalore (AsiaNews/UCAN) -- Former street children now direct traffic on the busy roads of Bangalore as part of a Church center's efforts to bring them into the social mainstream.
Neatly dressed in khaki pants and white shirts, black shoes and white hats, no one would call them "dirty street children" any more.
The ranks of these traffic police assistants, trained by a Church center in the city 2,000 kilometers south of New Delhi, also includes youngsters found working in silk factories and former juvenile home "inmates."
The Empowerment of Children and Human Rights Organization center, run by the Norbertine congregation, works to offer disadvantaged children a more satisfying and valuable role in society. It has "rescued over 1,000 children from various hazardous situations and put them in jobs after educating and training them in various skills," said Father Antony Sebastian, the center's director.
The Norbertine priest, a practicing lawyer, said 23 children are now working as traffic police assistants in Bangalore, but each has a "dark childhood and a story of oppression and delinquency" to tell.
One of them, Sreenivas, has burn scars all over his body. Four years ago, he says, his employer doused him with kerosene and set him on fire for requesting a salary after working more than six months in a potato chip factory.
Rescued by the center, Sreenivas was hospitalized with burns over more than 50 percent of his body. He was treated in Bangalore at St. John's Medical College, run by the Indian Catholic bishops' conference. The 18-year-old underwent six-months of medical rehabilitation.
"I was scared of the world and I never dreamed of becoming a 'policeman,'" says Sreenivas after his morning shift on Bangalore's busy M.G. Road. He earns 1,500 rupees (US$33) a month and looks forward to "a bright future."
Sreenivas and the other traffic police assistants watch out to see that traffic rules are obeyed and help park vehicles. They also help children and elderly people cross roads, which is what Santil Kumar, 17, likes best.
Kumar said he is "thrilled to see the gratifying smile" of people he helps. The youth ran away from home "a couple of years ago." He said that before he came into contact with the Norbertine center, he made a living by exhibiting a cobra and monkey on trains. The Church center has contacted Kumar's family and they have come to see him, but he does not plan to return and live with them.
The traffic police are pleased with the contribution the youths make.
One officer, Shivashudrappa says: "Our job is a monotonous and tiring one, which demands full concentration. It is good to have someone to share our burden." Two young assistants work with him.
Another officer with the Bangalore traffic police, Amar Kumar Pandey, said the police department trains the boys at the Traffic Training Institute on all aspects of traffic management and road safety rules. The children work in rotation from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and police "take care not to over-expose them to pollution or too much stress," the officer added.
Pandey said his department plans to train more children with the help of the Church center, "because these children are hard-working and motivated, and their service is valuable."
The training and the job have given youths like Harishkumar hope for the future. He holds a certificate from the Traffic Institute for having completed the basic course and dreams of becoming a full-fledged traffic policeman.
The Norbertine center was started in 1999 mainly to provide legal assistance to juvenile delinquents and child laborers. The rescued children are in the 16-20 age group and many are orphans or runaways.
Volunteers estimate Bangalore has about 90,000 street children. Several organizations work for them, but the Church center has been concentrating on the delinquent children.
"The children have become delinquent because of the negative environment in which they lived," Father Sebastian said. "They can become productive citizens if we give them a positive environment."