A child’s voice interrupts the ocean breeze that blows across the boardwalk.
Looking down, a small boy, no more than five years old, holds one hand out as the other makes an eating gesture, unmistakably asking for food.
The scene is sobering, but all too common across India, especially in the city of Mumbai.
With a population of about 30 million people between Mumbai proper and the surrounding suburbs, and a substantial disparity in wealth, the city is no stranger to residents on hard times.
Beyond homeless adults and vendors who can barely make a living, an even more disturbing matter hides in the back alleys and side streets of Mumbai.
According to Amnesty International, in Mumbai alone, approximately 100,000 children and adolescents fall under the designation of “street kids”. Street kids are children who have made the streets of major Indian cities their homes, resorting to begging, stealing, vending, or scavenging in order to survive.
Many leave their homes due to poverty, physical and sexual abuse, or a desire for opportunity outside of the limited opportunities available to them at home. These children — many of whom are under the age of 12 according to UNICEF — frequently band together in order to avoid the harm they often befall. As a result of their youth, they are often targeted by law enforcement and criminals for extortion, prostitution, physical abuse and illegal labor.
As reported by AFEA, a French organization focused on giving aid to street kids across the globe, India is home to the largest number of street kids in the world, with approximately 50 million children under the age of 14 working illegally in legitimate businesses.
These children, displaced by horrific circumstances and subject to extreme exploitation, have limited prospects as far as survival is concerned.
According to AFEA, approximately 15,000 children go missing in Mumbai alone. While abduction is certainly a likelihood for them, other factors like death as a result of illness and injuries, and even suicide is common.
Many of these children do not exist as far as India’s government is concerned, with no documentation. This means that the number of street kids — as well as their fatalities — are likely unreported, which suggests that all the statistics available surrounding the issue are underreported.
As India’s income disparity continues to widen exponentially along with a lack of bureaucratic efficiency, the likelihood of rectifying this tragic affair is slim to none.