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JAN 2015
INDIA

Salaam Baalak Trust: Providing street children opportunities for a better future

"Having worked in the past with a few non-profit organisations, I was delighted to be able to work with SBT along with my regular corporate legal matters. The differences in the backgrounds and opportunities available to SBT children are striking.  I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be in the shoes of these children who are placed in unimaginable positions – having to make very difficult and adult choices that they shouldn’t have to make,"

Delnaz Palkhivala

Lawyer, Mehta & Padamsey

For the past six years, 18 year old Manu* has been residing at the Kalyan shelter operated by the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) in Mumbai. Manu had been living on the streets with his mother, two sisters and a brother, when he was referred by ChildLine to Salaam Baalak Trust. His father, an alcoholic, had thrown most of his family out of the house.

In 2009, when Manu was 13 years old, his mother died from AIDS. SBT’s social worker went with Manu to perform the last rites, where they found a bank fixed deposit, a pass book and a few utensils, in his mothers belongings.  The fixed deposit amounted to Rs 2 lakhs, to be left to Manu with his uncle nominated as the trustee.

Initially Manu’s uncle was cooperative and willing to transfer the funds to Manu now that he was an adult, but as time went on, he stopped communicating with SBT. This case was then referred by SBT to iProbono. After investigating the claim, iProbono connected SBT to the law firm Mehta & Padamsey. Delnaz Palkhivala took conduct of the case.

Delnaz contacted the Bank of India as a protective measure to secure the monies in the accounts held by the deceased mother. She advised SBT to obtain a succession certificate attesting, demonstrating that the children were the rightful beneficiaries of the mother's estate, so that this could be served on the Bank.The fixed deposit could not therefore be processed without a court order and the money could not be taken by Manu’s uncle.

“Having worked in the past with a few non-profit organisations, I was delighted to be able to work with SBT along with my regular corporate legal matters. The differences in the backgrounds and opportunities available to SBT children are striking.  I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be in the shoes of these children who are placed in unimaginable positions – having to make very difficult and adult choices that they shouldn’t have to make,” says Delnaz..

Salaam Baalak Trust was formed in 1988, after the success of Mira Nair’s film ‘Salaam Bombay’. It has been dedicated to the care and protection of neglected, street children, regardless of caste, creed or religion. Zarin Gupta, founder trustee of SBT explains, “I had been a professionally trained social worker and was working with women and children in a government hospital. This was when I had the pleasure of meeting Mira who was then the co-producer of the movie Salaam Bombay. Mira came to know me and the work I was doing. She brought in funds to help street children and requested me to start the project. I took it on and got so involved that I gave up my job to work voluntarily for this cause.”

“Earlier I used to think that children need this or that and then I realised it was their right! I know the number of children our SBT cares for is a drop in the ocean. But if I am able to save even one life, it’s worth it. Especially so that children are not trafficked into prostitution or labour or into underworld gangs.”

“It has been a fantastic experience working with iProbono. I really appreciate the initiative taken by them to make legal help accessible to not-for-profit organisations like us,” says Zarin.

For Delnaz, it has always been a rewarding and personally gratifying situation to take up pro bono work. “What was once perceived as being “charity work” that was governed and motivated solely by personal conscience, pro bono work has now evolved into a professional responsibility and a powerful force inside the practice of law today. Not only independent practitioners but also law firms are beginning to see the value of pro bono work and are actually institutionalising it, thereby putting it on par with “billable” work,” says Delnaz.

(*Name has been changed for privacy reasons)