unaways from home and their families for various reasons or belonging to itinerant caste groups, Delhi is home to thousands of children living on the margins, without education, medical care or a future. Their only understanding of childhood is unrelenting toil, sometimes under the supervision of their elders but often all by themselves in frighteningly unsafe conditions for a barebones livelihood.
Sanjay, 8, is in a group of acrobats who travel across the NCR to earn their livelihood. This set of children and their guardians live in a closed community in Patel Nagar and belong to Ghumantu jati (travelling tribe). They spend nine months of the year performing for money and return to their homes in Bilaspur, Jharkhand, to farm during the season.
13-year-old Faizan enjoys a morning smoke after getting a good price for his ragpicking. He has been living in Nizamuddin for nearly three years after running away from Agra. He often returns to meet his family: parents, older brother and little sister. He found refuge in cigarettes and drugs after extreme domestic abuse, and is now addicted.
11-year-old Sunny (behind) shares a tube with his friend Raja after their last round of collecting trash in the evening.
A group of children live the lives of adults here.
Bhura (Mahesh) is a 10-year-old rag picker. He earns ₹100 a day from selling his booty. His parents allowed him to drop out of school. He is often beaten up on the job, and seems disoriented most of the time.
Children playing at the resettlement colony, Takya Kale Khan, near New Delhi Station.
Shameem has lived in Takya Kale Khan for more than 10 years. His parents migrated from a village near Kolkata in 2001. He collects and stacks hospital disposables like needles and syringes for recycling. Oblivious to the risk his work involves, he plays with a top and string on a night off.
Sunny sits in a sleep haze early on a chilly morning. Exhausted from a long day of rifling through garbage, he would have liked to sleep for some more time. But he had to move on to earn his living.
13-year-old Vishal ran away from home in Haryana three years ago. Violence and physical abuse left him mentally disturbed. Since his arrival in Delhi, he has lived near Nizamuddin railway station. He makes money selling glass and plastic bottles he collects from trains.
A group of children, all under 10, burn metal to sell in the local market, near old Delhi station. Unsupervised, they find role models in their older friends and family members, following their trade by instinct.
Anjali and Nandini go to school during the day and collect plastic bottles in the evening with Bhura. They make ₹100-200 a day.