Channel 4’s long running Dispatches series is back with ‘The Slumdog Children of Mumbai’. The show follows the story of 4 children living in and around the slums of Mumbai.
11-year old Salam is living on the streets after running away from his abusive step-mother; Deepa, who is 7, lives with her grandmother along with her two brothers after her mother deserted her; and 11-year old twins Hussain and Hussan spend their days rag-picking to help provide their family with food.
The children are fairly typical of the over 30million children in India who are either homeless or have to work to provide for their families rather than go to School. And that is what makes it so depressing.
As the programme develops it tells a story of hard labour, disease, begging, violence, sexual abuse and much more, but more sadly the sub-plot was of stolen childhoods, no education, lack of aspiration and a viscous cycle of poverty that feels almost impossible to solve.
I work for Comic Relief, a charity that works in slums like the one in Mumbai and has a funding-stream dedicated to street and working children yet Dispatches made even me question the futility of the task ahead of us and other charities like us – what can a few pound, or even a few million pound do in the face of such extreme adversity?
Yet we must not give in to such feelings of hoplessness – The public must continue to give and allow charities to relieve the worst of the symptoms of poverty and help change the lives of as many people and communities as they possibly can.
Government too should be prepared to do more – All Labour supporters should be proud of the work successive Labour Governments have done to alleviate poverty across the world and I have no doubt that the size, scale and reach of DfID will prove to be a lasting legacy for this administration. Indeed, it is unthinkable that any of the three major parties will even contemplate a drop in the International Aid budget within their election manifestos.
To achieve fundamental change, the kind of change that will permanently help the likes of Salam, Deepa, Hussan and Hussain, there needs to be a complete overhaul in how we approach this issue. Long-term aid needs to be freed from the limiting and plain wrong policies of the World-bank and the IMF. Good governance and anti-corruption measures are clearly important but so is an international commitment to develop and support improved civil institutions, fair and open access to our markets and the time and space to develop economic and political systems that work rather than a forcing a one-size-fits all american style capitalist democracy on an unwilling and unprepared society.