Roma is currently studying, mentoring children and living an independent life. From the age of 11 or 12 years old Roma stayed at a Salaam Baalak Trust shelter home after outreach workers from the charity rescued her from Delhi's streets. Here she shares her personal story and outlines the incredibly grim challenges facing street living girls.
Delhi after dark: no place for a young girl
I remember my childhood days when I used to go out from home, all alone or sometimes with my friends, to walk, run or play in an open space. I would be out till late in the evening and sometimes it fell dark coming home. Those were the most precious memories that I can never forget. It was safe, and there was no fear of getting touched by the dirty hands or falling prey to someone’s vicious plan of assault. It was used to be a carefree walk without any fear in my mind. Even the family used to be at peace, with no worries of where the girl is going. But in today’s life we think ten times before we step out alone to walk or even to go the marketplace to buy something. Public places are not even safe. The preying eyes are everywhere looking for a female irrespective of age. Everyday channels are flooded with news of molestation, harassment and violence against women. I was on the streets for couple of years and had to take shelter before it fell dark, because I knew the realities of streets during the dark hours. Children on the streets live a very miserable life. They have to face myriad of challenges while living on streets, but the life of a girl on streets is worse than the boys. The fear of getting harassed, physically abused, molested or touched keeps flooding into the mind, tormenting it every single second while walking or staying on the streets. I was maybe aged 8 or 9 years old when my mother brought us to Delhi. After a couple of months, at midnight, she left us behind for someone else. The poignant pain of not having parents in the complete unknown place at that young age was taking a heavy toll on me as I was the eldest of three of us. Seeing us alone, a lady came to us and took us with her - claiming herself as our maternal grandmother. She was into human trafficking - selling children for money - and I was on her list too. Somehow, I saved myself from her but fell prey to the preying eyes on streets. I have witnessed women being physically abused, beaten-up by either husbands or someone else. Nevertheless, on top of everyday challenges of finding food and a safe place to sleep, women face the threat of violence and cruelty. It is not easy to be a female on the streets. I remember how I cut my hair to look like a boy in order to survive on streets during the evenings and luckily, I managed to find a place before it fell dark. I’ve worked in houses doing household chores and cooking meals for people to keep myself safe from being on streets. It shivers me imagining a life on streets for girls during night and even in the day time. I was always on a run to save myself from becoming a target of someone, until I found this new home at Salaam Baalak Trust."
Salaam Baalak Trust operates two girls-only shelter homes in Delhi. Staffed entirely by women, Arushi and Udaan Rose homes provide vital safe shelter, food, education and access to healthcare for to up to 130 girls at any one time. When children first arrive at SBT, attempts are made to trace their family and, alongside the Child Welfare Committee, a decision is made regarding the child’s future. Children such as Roma, who stay until they are 18 years old, are enrolled into local government schools and are often also trained in sports or the arts as they are encouraged to realise their full potential.
Friends of SBT was founded by volunteers who worked with children like Roma and wanted to continue offering support to, and awareness of, Salaam Baalak Trust from the UK. The residential shelter homes and outreach staff are in more demand than ever before. If you're able to do so, please donate here.