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Chandni, the 18-year-old editor of India’s only tabloid paper produced by street-children journalists, Balaknama (Hindi for “voice of children”). A newspaper produced by homeless young people in Delhi is highlighting issues such as child marriage and giving sidelined young people a voice

Like all editors, Chandni’s biggest challenge is to decide which stories will make it to the front page, and managing the egos of those whose stories don’t.

Out of a dark and dank basement of New Delhi’s Gautam Nagar neighborhood, composed of former rag pickers, street entertainers, and upsettingly young drug addicts, operate 16 catalysts for change. These 16 visionaries are slowly but surely altering the way street children are often perceived. No longer propagated as drab, scraggly, and doomed, these children have dedicated their daily lives to highlighting and heightening Balaknama—the “voice of children”—as reporters of the world’s first newspaper written by and for street children.

The monthly newspaper has a team of 60 reporters between 12 and 20 years old and is based in Delhi and neighbouring states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Most of the street-children reporters were recruited from learning centres run by NGOs the Federation for Street and Working Children (Badhte Kadam) and the NGO Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (Chetna), which started Balaknama in 2003.

A lot of time is spent on writing the stories. “Many of our reporters started school after joining the paper so writing is a struggle for them,” says Chandni. The copy is written in Hindi and later translated into English.

Each paper is priced at a token 2 rupees and over 8,000 copies, most of them in Hindi, are published every month. Many of them are distributed free to police stations and NGOs working in the field of child rights. The paper makes no profit and is entirely NGO-funded.

An estimated 51,000 children live on Delhi’s streets, some as young as five-years-old. They make a living by begging or rag picking and are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Many are abandoned by their families or have run away from home.

Twelve-year-old Rustam is one of the lucky ones. He lives with his construction-worker parents but, like his three brothers and sister, missed out on school because he had to supplement the family income.

He started feeding Balaknama reporters stories last year and got a front-page splash when he alerted a senior reporter about a child marriage in June 2015. I became known in my neighbourhood and my parents felt so proud,” he glows.

For nearly a year now, Rustam has stopped begging and studies at a learning centre. He is paid a small fee for every story lead that he gives.

This feeling of empowerment is what Balaknama wants to foster among street kids. It does this by highlighting, not just the difficulties they face, but also stories of hope. Regardless, the sense of pride and accomplishment is evident.

Positive reports about street kids who return lost items or help get back stolen goods get prioritized.

No one is looking at the child living on the streets, or laboring inside homes and hotels. They still don’t exist. Balaknama is determined to change this attitude by enabling street children to tell their own stories, in their own words.

 

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