Night after night, some of New Delhi’s street children bring their day’s earnings to the Children’s Development Bank -- five rupees begged from a passerby or a hundred rupees or so earned from sorting rubbish. The aid organisation Misereor Germany is currently supporting a project in India, which helps street children to save money -- the Children’s Development Bank is also run by children.
Boys on the streets of India's cities can surive longer than girls who are at more risk of abuse
The station district of Old Delhi is the core of the Indian capital. Cars, rickshaws, horse carriages, motorbikes and people all come together here -- there are lots of street traders, lots of beggars and lots of children. Between two shops is the entrance to a backyard. Weary-looking men are sitting around in front of a homeless night shelter. At the very end of the dark yard is a door. A light blue sign above the door reads Children’s Development Bank.
Inside the bare 20 square metre room, the television blares. It is hot and muggy -- a ceiling fan provides some relief. There are about 20 boys sitting around the TV watching a Bollywood action film.
Most of the children here are street kids, says social worker Sebastian Mathew who’s been working for this project set up by the Indian aid organisation “Butterflies” for seven years now:
“Many of them have run away from their homes because of abuse and poverty. They have nobody to look after them. The vast majority are boys because boys can manage on the street whereas for girls it’s very difficult -- they can be abused or taken away.”
50 rupees for clothes
One of the regulars at the Children’s Development Bank is Vishal. He came to New Delhi from the poor state of Bihar in eastern India a few years ago. He earns his money by collecting rags.
He has been coming here for two months: “Friends of mine told me about this bank and the staff at Butterflies too. My money is secure here and I can save it,” he says.
He wants to take out 50 rupees to buy some clothes. He goes to the counter in the corner of the room. Behind the counter is Murpal -- he is also 14 and has been the bank’s treasurer for six months. Every evening, he opens up shop for one hour from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm. The children chose the time themselves.
Murpal explains to Vishal that 60 rupees will remain in his account if he takes out 50. Murpal’s assistant Merfus hands over the money across the counter. He explains that his parents are dead and that he came to Delhi half a year ago to join his brother, who sometimes gives him extra pocket money that he keeps at the bank.
On the streets, Sebastian Mathew explained, stray children’s money is often at risk of being stolen, which is why they often spend it as soon as possible on “gambling, on movies, on buying clothes or shoes unnecessarily.”
The bank helps them to get into the habit of saving. Moreover, it offers them a place to sleep so that they do not run the risk of being hit by other street children or adults.
But the Children’s Development Bank is not only about saving or making sure money is safe it’s “a school for teaching life skills,” such as the importance of taking responsibility, having a feeling of duty, and teamwork, says Mathew.
For the children, by the children
The bank is a cooperative. All the children who put money into an account -- 9,000 in Delhi alone -- can take part in the decision-making process. They decide on who becomes treasurer, who can get credit, how high the credit should be and how much interest there should be.
Youths of over 15 can get credit from the Children’s Development Bank to go to school or open up a small business. Butterflies gives advice.
“They should get off the streets -- that’s the main object and they should become productive, good citizens [by the age of] 18.”
That’s also what Murpal the treasurer wants: ”I want to go to the army. Now I’m going to be in class 5. Since I’ve been at the bank I don’t spend any money on unnecessary stuff -- on cigarettes or cinema, only on important things.”