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April 19, 2021

On the street

Editorial

 
April 19, 2021

The world marked the International Day for Street Children on April 12. Pakistan's streets have over the years seen an increase in children who are either begging or trying to make ends meet by doing menial labour. Pakistan needs to take action under UN conventions, including the Child Rights Convention which it has already ratified. Until communities become involved in protecting children, they will never be safe. We have heard of horrendous crimes committed against street children, including mass murder, and periodic episodes of rape, and sodomy. In many cases, street children inevitably fall into the hands of gangs, selling drugs, and in turn themselves become criminals involved in drugs and prostitution, according to research carried out by local human rights and child rights organisations.

No one has quite measured the number of children on the streets in Pakistan. But it is known that there are tens of thousands and very possibly millions of children who live out in the open without any home to go to at night. This number has been estimated at over 20,000 in Karachi, and could be well beyond that figure. Lahore is not far behind. And other cities such as Faisalabad report an increase in the number of street children spotted on the roads and alleys of the city. There have been reports that the recent wave of poverty, caused partly by inflation and partly by the Covid-19 epidemic, has led to an increase in the number of children who have no choice but to fend for themselves on the street. In some cases, they have left their houses by their own choice because of the poverty and consequent domestic violence they face in these situations. In other cases, families have attempted to send them out to work, and as a result essentially pushed them into the hands of street gangs and others who exploit helpless children, some no more than eight or nine years old, who take to the streets for a host of reasons.

This is a problem that has gone on far too long. We need to be able to protect all our children and ensure that they are protected from crime and life out of the safety of homes or shelters. In this respect, more shelters need to be set up for children who have no choice but to go to them to seek a roof and food at least once or twice a day. Such institutions exist, but are too few in number. The Edhi Foundation and other organisations involved in charitable work run such shelters, taking in children on the streets. But there is a need to do much more. The need for action cannot be emphasised more than at this time when more and more vulnerable citizens are forced to turn to begging or even minor crime in order to put food in their mouths.