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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Meeting Delhi's street children
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website, with Tony Blair in Delhi

At noon local time, while waiting for a press conference with Tony Blair, I used the opportunity to ring my seven-year- old daughter to wish her good luck on her first day at her new school, and to tell her not to be scared, but to have fun.

Cherie Blair at the Salaam Baalak Trust
The Blairs were impressed by the project

It was just a little bit emotional, although, judging by her response, only for me.

A few hours later I was standing in over ninety degree heat gazing at the faces of Delhi street children whose everyday fears include violence, drug addiction, sexual abuse, HIV-Aids and an early death.

The little group of around 40, aged between perhaps four and 14, were shaded from the sun under an overhanging tree chirping with squirrels, and were receiving what was the only education any of them will ever get.

At home, my daughter was most likely being introduced to new friends, attempting to wildly guess how many are left when you have taken fourteen away from forty, or tucking into her newly-healthy school dinner.

In Delhi, these children were putting on a play for Tony and Cherie Blair about their lives on the street of this emerging economic powerhouse of a capital.

Powerful message

At one point that included a young man of no more than 13 simulating mainlining heroin, being arrested by police and finally contracting HIV, the biggest growing killer disease in India, with numbers rivalling Africa.

There was a powerful message from the little drama.

Although, shameful to say, it is not a new one.

This project, indirectly part-funded by the UK government, intends to pull as many of the city's estimated 150,000 street children under its wing every day, give them a basic education, personal health guidance and, most importantly, some hope that they can escape HIV, their hopeless lives - even get a job.

It is a daunting challenge.

I asked one of the project team where the children went after their lessons - which, by the way, they appeared to be enjoying just as much as I fully expect my daughter was enjoying hers. "Back over there," she said pointing to the rear of some dilapidated homes joining the little courtyard we were in.

My confusion must have been obvious.

"To the slums beyond there. Back on the streets".

And, in many cases, to the homes which are contributing to their tragedies.


Workers from the Salaam Baalak Trust cannot offer them an easy pathway out of their condition, but the aim is to arm them with the social and personal skills needed to at least given them a more-than fighting chance.

Tony Blair
Will Mr Blair's free trade message help children like these?

And for the prime minister and his wife, this was an opportunity to witness first hand what some of that, often-controversial overseas aid cash is being spent on.

The Blairs were rightly impressed.

Four years ago, Tony Blair called Africa a scar on the conscience of the world. India's poverty must attract similar sentiments.

Mr Blair's message is that the only way to finally tackle this appalling situation is for India to continue its rapid economic growth.

Only by bringing jobs - even, presumably low-pay jobs - and trading to an ever greater extent with the rest of the world, will this particular "scar" be removed from the face of the planet, he believes.

That is the message he has brought to Delhi on this two day visit which has already seen the signing of some big trade deals which should help do just that.

But it is hard not to think there must be something else to give these children the sort of basic quality of life my daughter already enjoys. And to do it quickly.

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