Newspapers occasionally write about the plight of children living in the streets, but a group of homeless kids in India's capital New Delhi is putting together their own monthly publication with stories about their struggles and their concerns. Balaknama, or "children's voice" is written, edited and compiled by children up to 19 years old and reaches about 10,000 readers.
From poverty to child labor, underage marriages, sexual abuse and drugs - there is no shortage of topics for Balaknama.
“When reports arrive and the team sits down to select the stories, lots of fights break out. They argue ‘this story will have more impact than that story.’ So there’s a lot of debates before the final selection goes to print,” said Shanno, a consulting editor of Balaknama.
The newspaper has 70 reporters in several states, 14 of them reporting regularly from the capital. All of the writers, editors and managers are homeless children.
“I used to beg, do drugs and sometimes go rag picking. Then I learnt about Balaknama and began to work for it. First I was a junior reporter, then a reporter and now I’m all set to become the editor,” said Jyoti Kumari, a Balaknama reporter.
Many of the children have jobless and illiterate parents. As budding reporters they now earn money and many are enrolled in distance learning programs that may help advance their careers.
“What I couldn’t do, at least my daughter is doing. She’s helping others and she’s also helping us,” said Sunita Devi, Kumari’s mother.
The monthly eight-page newspaper began in 2002 as a quarterly. It has changed the lives of the children who publish it and aims at improving the livelihood of thousands of others. It is supported by NGOs and charity groups.
“They feel very empowered and encouraged when people appreciate them, and when they talk to the authorities with the confidence, and also before the media… I think this is a really powerful tool to empower them,” said Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a sponsor of Balaknama.
The newspaper is sold for about three cents, less than the price of a small cup of tea in India. But the modest sum gives these children hope for a future off the streets.