India's Slum Kids turn Youth Reporters

India's Slum Kids turn Youth Reporters

Balaknama is a unique newspaper which is managed by slum kids and focuses on issues affecting children living on the streets of India
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By Zainab Sultan

At the age of 17, Vikas Kumar has experienced a lot more than what other teenagers could have possibly done. He ran away from his abusive parents at the age of nine and worked as a rag picker for a couple of years at a local train station, battled drugs addiction and came out clean and now works as reporter for India’s only newspaper for street kids.

 Balaknama or Children’s voice is not like any other newspaper because it is solely run by children living on the streets and focuses on the harsh realities of child labour, early marriages, sex abuse and other issues affecting the thousands of children living in India’s slums.

 “If a Bollywood actor’s dog gets hurt, it will be breaking news and covered by all newspapers and channels in India but when a street kid dies on a railway platform or in an accident, no one seems to care,” said a frustrated Kumar.

 “We want everyone to treat street kids as equal citizens and we try our best to get their voice heard,” Kumar told Doha Centre for Media Freedom.

This unique newspaper was started in 2003 with just 35 reporters in New Delhi and now they have spread their network to seven cities across India with almost 10,000 children working for it. Supported by local NGO Chetna, young children like Kumar and several others have found a purpose in life to fight relentlessly for their rights.

 “When I met the support workers from Chetna, I used to think I am the only one who is deprived of education and has to work to support my family but during our sessions, I met so many other children with similar stories,” recalled Shanno, who served as the editor of the newspaper and now works as an advisor.

“Through Balaknama, I got to learn about my rights and found the leader in me. In the beginning, I had to lie to my parents that I found a job to be able to continue working for the newspaper,” said Shanno.

One of the toughest things they face is an unsupportive environment at home and extremely poor financial conditions. Most reporters spend a lot of time visiting families and convincing them to allow their children to join Balaknama where they get a chance to study while working.

 “I spend a lot of time counseling families and children to work as reporters  and once they see the photo or name of their child published in the newspaper, they are drawn towards us,” explains Shanno.

 The eight page newspaper covers stories from different cities across India such as Delhi, Noida, Mathura, Jhansi, Gwalior and Agra.

 “Every time we sit down in our editorial meeting, we fight hard to figure out which story will be on our front page,” Shanno said, adding that “our network of reporters works hard to get us unique stories which are not being covered anywhere else.”

One of their cover stories was on the freezing temperatures in northern India and how can children living on the streets stay safe.

 “We saw a lot of coverage on how to stay warm during this winter in mainstream media but nothing really talked about the children who are sleeping on the streets or under the bridges,” Kumar said, adding “so we decided that our cover story will be dedicated to this topic and direct kids to different places where they can find shelter during the harsh winter.”

 These children are mini celebrities themselves with so many foreign channels approaching them for interviews or documentaries.

 

 

​ “Our story about the orphaned slum kids who did not have access to education was shown on Channel 4 while they were filming a documentary on us,” Shanno said.

“There was an outpour of support for the children and it was through the donations of several viewers those children were able to join school. It feels great when our stories can make such a difference,” she added.

 

All rights reserved, Doha Centre for Media Freedom 2017

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