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Pakistan: Street Children Day

By Sehrish Wasif
April 15 2014




For once, a handful of Pakistani street children made headlines in the national media by giving a stellar performance at the Street Child World Cup (SCWC) 2014. They are being promised education and a better life. While this may have raised hopes of tens of thousands of street children of Pakistan, not much seems to be changing for them.

Their days are spent scavenging through heaps of garbage. Their hobby is playing with stray dogs and running after buses or tractors to latch on for a free ride. Many of them sleep on footpaths. They are scolded for begging or offering to clean windshields of cars at traffic signals. Irrespective of the bitter realities, their dreams are similar to any average Pakistani child. But owing to their socio-economic conditions, they cannot aspire to reach their goals.

While there are no official numbers available, it is estimated that there are 1.5 million street children in Pakistan, according to the Society for the Protection of the Right of the Child (SPARC). And the numbers seem to be rising due to factors like internal displacement and natural disasters as well as poverty.

Street stories

One of these children facing a harsh life is Hazirullah, 11, a scavenger who spends his entire day at Sabzi Mandi in Islamabad, while digging through the trash looking for items to re-sell to earn a living.

“For others, it is just trash but to us it is a treasure; a source of earning to feed our families,” he said while talking to The Express Tribune. He has a marked physiognomy and is matted with dust. His complexion is burnt and he doesn’t really stand up straight. The bearing of consistent weight on juvenile shoulders has affected him. Rain or shine, he wakes up at 6am and goes out barefoot in a hope to earn a pittance. “When it rains, I catch a cold. But because I cannot afford to go to a doctor, I ignore it. That is why I want to become a doctor when I grow up,” said Hazirullah.

Din Mohammad, 12, Faizan, 15 and Sajjad, 12, also want to go to school but poverty is the major hurdle in their way. “Throughout the day we run here and there on roads, and when we feel hungry we try to search for left-over at roadside restaurants,” said Faizan.

Faizan wants to join the army. “The colour of the army uniform and the cap they wear fascinates me. But I know that children like me are mostly considered thieves; we cannot be a part of the army,” he said.

Sitting in an empty pushcart, with coating of dust over his clothes, four-year-old Raj Muhammad’s condition tells a similar story. He is shy, and quiet but a good mimic and imitates his adult friends who usually make fun of him. Children as young as him are even more vulnerable.

Experts talk

“Street children are more sharp, brave and smart compared to other kids. What they lack is the opportunity to go to schools, polish their skills and showcase their talent,” said Zeba Husain, founding director of Mashal Model School, a charity school located in Bari Imam which focuses on providing education to the marginalised children of the area.

Currently, 500 street children are enrolled in her school. Husain expressed concern over societal attitudes and stereotyping, as these children are generalised as being thieves, beggars and pickpockets. “People call them names and even if they stand near a shop they are insulted and asked to run along from there,” she said, adding that “It is very unfortunate that these children are taken as commodities and are sexually abused so commonly. The abusers take full advantage of their vulnerability, poverty and innocence. This snatches away their confidence, self-esteem and childhood.”

Sarah Adeel, founder of Lettuce Bee Kids, said “I believe there should not be separate schools for street children. They should be provided an equal opportunity to study with other children both at private and government schools. This would help them to groom, to gain confidence and to forge ahead shoulder to shoulder with other children.”

Apart from emotional side-effects and marginalisation, street children are at a higher health risk. Dr Samia Baber, director of Health Awareness Society, said that since birth many of these children are on street and are exposed to all kinds of pollution. “They put their hands in trash, consume contaminated water, do not wash hands and usually defecate in the open. All this makes them vulnerable to communicable and non-communicable disease,” she said.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan 


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