Balaknama: Empowering Street Children through Journalism in Delhi

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    In the bustling city of Delhi, a remarkable newspaper is making a difference in the lives of street children. Balaknama, meaning “voice of children” in Hindi, is a publication run by and for children who live and work on the streets. With over 90 young reporters, most of whom are under 18 and illiterate, Balaknama provides a platform for these marginalized youth to share stories from their neighborhoods. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the newspaper has not only empowered the children involved but has also brought attention to important social issues affecting street children in Delhi.

    Giving a Voice to the Marginalized: Balaknama operates with a unique model where batuni (oral) reporters gather news from their surroundings, which is then verified and written by a team of four writers and editors. While some reporters send their reports via WhatsApp, others like Akash, 15, come to the newspaper’s office to pitch stories about the struggles faced by street children. Akash, for instance, highlights the lack of clean bathrooms and the challenges faced by children who collect bottles for an off-licence. Balaknama provides these children with journalism training, enabling them to effectively communicate their experiences and concerns.

    Transforming Lives: The impact of Balaknama on the lives of its young contributors is profound. Kishan Rathore, the 18-year-old editor of the newspaper, was once living on the streets, selling cigarettes after losing his father. However, a chance encounter with the Indian charity Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (Chetna) led him to Balaknama. Rathore now has the opportunity to write and publish stories that shed light on the street kid community, a cause close to his heart. He is one of over 700 children who have been part of Balaknama and has experienced a transformation in his life, gaining access to education and a shared living space.

    Reporting on Critical Issues: Balaknama, sold for a nominal price and published in Hindi and English, tackles significant social issues affecting street children. The newspaper has covered stories on sexual abuse, malnutrition, police brutality, and child labor. Its reporting has led to important changes, such as advocating for identity cards for street children to provide them with proof of residence. Balaknama’s coverage of substance abuse and the exploitation of street children by the police in picking up bodies from railway lines has sparked wider media attention and prompted action from authorities.

    Empowerment through Education: Several former Balaknama reporters have successfully overcome the challenges they faced while living on the streets. Jyoti, who slept under a flyover with her alcoholic father, became the editor of Balaknama in 2015. She overcame drug addiction and other hardships, and now teaches for Chetna while sharing an apartment with her mother. Another success story is Shambhu Kumar, who sold vegetables at a railway station before becoming an editor. He is now pursuing a psychology degree and has seen his younger brothers enroll in regular schools. Balaknama’s impact goes beyond journalism, enabling these young individuals to break the cycle of poverty and strive for a better life through education.