In a dark and dingy room, the only thing visible is the blue flickering light from a television set as a dozen-odd boys, teens and below, watch with eyes riveted on the screen. ‘Ohs’ and ‘ahs’ are heard on occasion. At first it seems they are watching a Hindi film, but a closer look reveals they are hooked on to a porn movie. The boys are runaways or vagabonds who beg at many of Delhi’s crossroads or are rag-pickers. According to child activists and NGOs working with these children, most of them are hooked to either porn movies or video games and spend most of their earnings on them, on occasions forgetting to eat.

‘I can sit for hours playing video games or watching movies. I spend Rs.50 or more on them. So I have stopped eating from outside and survive on tea and beedis,’ Vishal Kushwaha, a rag picker, told IANS. The 17-year-old rag-picker makes Rs.150 to Rs.200 a day. ‘We watch the movies in a tea stall which has television sets and DVD players,’ said Kushwaha, who along with a dozen teenagers regularly watches porn in Sarai Kale Khan in south Delhi. Showing no embarrassment while talking about his ‘addiction’, Kushwaha said that every night he watches at least two or three porn movies.

But this is not the story of just one child. According to Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA), hundreds of children have admitted spending more money on watching pornography and playing video games.

Take 13-year-old Ankit for example.He was introduced to the world of adult films at the age of 10 by a boy who was two years his senior. ‘My friend introduced me to this; now once a week I watch porn clips. For downloading the clips to our mobile phone, we have to spend around Rs. 80. For us, food is not so important,’ Ankit told IANS.

The capital’s homeless are roughly estimated to be around 150,000, of whom 50,000 are children, according to social activists. Usha Justa, a volunteer with CHETNA, said innumerable tea shops turn into porn parlours at night. ‘They loot money from these kids. They show them hardcore porn. These children get totally addicted to it,’ she said. ‘Such activities happen under the very nose of the police,’ she added.

Most of the children IANS spoke to said policemen are bribed to look the other way. ‘The policemen don’t disturb us. They know what we are doing. But as they get money from the owner, they don’t bother us,’ said another teenager, who refused to identify himself. Justa also said that apart from watching extreme pornography, the children also spend money on video games. Busy chasing a blue car on the screen, 14-year-old Aman said: ‘Life on the streets is better than the one I had at home. I ran away as my stepfather used to beat me.’

‘What we earn, we spend,’ added his friend Rupesh, 15. ‘It is also better to spend whatever we earn in a day. Older boys or men sometimes rob us,’ he added. Both of them grudgingly accepted that they are vulnerable on the mean and dangerous streets of the national capital. ‘Yes, it is true it is an unpredictable life. But here no one can tell us what to do or what not to do. We live life on our own terms,’ said Rupesh, who ran away from home as he was nagged by his parents to study.

Nikhil Raheja, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Psychiatry, said addiction to pornography and video games among adolescents is highly dangerous. ‘Porn clips and video games fixate their brain, drive them to a compulsion to watch and play more of them. Many video games have violent elements and would increase the sense of violence.

‘Watching porn movies is likely to force kids to engage in risky behaviour and have sex at a younger age,’ Raheja told IANS. Social activists allege police fail to take action against porn video hubs that are abundant in east Delhi (Nand Nagri and Sundar Nagri) and south Delhi (Sarai Kale Khan and Hazrat Nizamuddin). ‘Counselling children, most of the time, doesn’t serve the purpose. Children get back to the habit. There are nearly 20,000 illegal video and porn movie parlours in Delhi, which take at least Rs. 60 a day from each kid. The police are inactive. A crackdown on such illegal parlours is the need of the hour,’ CHETNA director Sanjay Gupta told IANS.

A senior police officer, however, brushed aside the charges. ‘We have cracked down on such parlours. In fact, we have filed cases against four mobile phone shop owners near Uttam Nagar for selling porn video clips in 2GB pen drives to children. They charged Rs 80-100 for clips. We take action whenever we get information,’ the officer said on condition of anonymity. Gupta said many of the adolescent children display abnormal behaviour when volunteers interact with them.

‘It is difficult to reason with these children. By the time we are able to make any inroads, they either fall seriously ill as they don’t eat proper food or meet a violent end. It’s a sad life. We feel helpless,’ Gupta added.