Chandni, an 18-year-old girl in Delhi, runs a newspaper called Balaknama. It is providing an outlet for more than 10,000 children living in poverty to have a voice.
Balaknama, which translates to “voice of children,” is a newspaper solely comprised of articles written by children living in poverty who want to share their stories. The paper calls itself, “the world’s newspaper for and by street and working children.” And the paper is doing some good for disadvantaged children living on the street.
For so long, the world’s poor had no voice. In bustling crowded cities, such as Delhi, some of the most vulnerable people were not seen or heard by others around them.
Homeless children living on the streets in Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh (the regions where children contribute to the newspaper) are forced into situations of horrendous human rights violations and child labor. All the while they are made to feel invisible.
An estimated 51,000 children live on the street in India.
12 percent of children in India, according to UNICEF, work in child labor.
“We get pushed and treated like garbage because there is no one to speak for us,” said Chandni.
Chandni now has the opportunity to give many these children the power to express their concerns and change their lives.
The newspaper she edits is changing all that. Having a voice empowers these children, and it’s also creating hope and positive change for many children around Delhi to become seen as true citizens. For example, the paper advocates for “street children” to have national identity cards. And shares stories of acts of kindness the "street children" see daily which humanize the thousands of overlooked and undercared for children living on the street.
No one is looking at the child living on the streets, or labouring inside homes and hotels. They still don’t exist,” Chandni told the Guardian.
Chandni took over as the editor of the newspaper a year ago and has grown distribution to over 5,000 readers. She translates the stories from Hindi to English for the “street children” who report all kinds of injustices occurring in their lives.
Some of their stories, and her own, are heartbreaking.
Chandni grew up “rag picking” (rummaging through trash for anything of value) and performing on the street with her father to survive during her childhood. Then Chetna, an NGO which works to rehabilitate children living on the street, found her and gave her a small stipend to stop rag picking for a living.
Then Chetna went a step farther.
Their outreach program trained her as a reporter. From there she began to interview children on the street and eventually became the editor of Balaknama - which was started by Chetna in 2003. Today, she manages 14 reporters, holds editorial meetings twice a month and makes the tough decisions like whose story will be on the cover of the newspaper.
It’s not an easy job being the editor of India’s only tabloid created by journalists who are children living on the street. Yet it’s an important one and it’s making a huge impact on children’s lives.
“As editor, I want to play up stories that are most impactful,” Chandni said. “But many reporters get upset when their stories don’t make the mark. So, yes, I do have to tread carefully.”
One story Chandni featured had an incredible impact. A “senior reporter” for Balaknama, 20-year-old Shambhu, filed a report on police taking advantage of children by forcing them to pull dead bodies out of train tracks in exchange for living and sleeping in the railway stations.
“Imagine forcing a child to go down those dangerous tracks and retrieve bloody, mangled limbs!” said Shambhu.
The article traveled to NGOs, and child rights activists, such as the National Committee for Protection of Child Rights, who were able to take action against the police.
In another case, a 12-year-old Rustam told one of Balaknama’s reporters about a child marriage which was going to occur in his community. Thanks to the newspaper authorities in Delhi heard about the marriage and stepped in to stop it.
There is so much power in sharing your voice.
This is just one example of the stories Chandni and Balaknama generates awareness and change through. Their newspaper truly gives the most vulnerable and powerless children a voice and a tiny piece of security in a rough world.