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Saturday July 13, 2024

‘Street children most vulnerable in country’

By Myra Imran
April 22, 2022

Islamabad : Street children are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Pakistan, and there is no real or recent data on their numbers have grown.

The situation of street children was explored by a policy brief on ‘Street-Connected Children in Pakistan: Education and Protection Challenges’ launched by the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC). The policy brief was launched in partnership with Cities for Children Pakistan.

The policy brief explores the current situation of street-connected children in Pakistan with a child rights-based lens, reviews policies and legislations in the focus areas of education and protection, and recommends informed solutions acknowledging the unique challenges faced by children on the street.

Speaking at the launch event, NCRC Chairperson, Afshan Tehseen Bajwa, talked about the day-to-day marginalization faced by such children, “Street-connected children are one of the most vulnerable and ignored groups in Pakistan both by the state and the society - they face a multitude of problems and live in abject poverty, often exposed to deprivation and danger on the streets. NCRC calls upon the State to devise a national-level framework for decriminalization and de-stigmatization of street children. In addition, the existing legal provisions about vagrancy in special and penal laws should be done away with. It is the duty of the State to ensure their proper rehabilitation and reintegration into the society.”

Susan Andrews, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF said highlighted the long-term and holistic need for child rights-centric approaches to support children associated with the streets. “Children are rights holders. We should steer away from repressive and welfare approaches when it comes to street children," she said.

Co-author of the policy brief, Cities for Children Founder, Madeeha Ansari, said, “It’s wonderful seeing the discourse around street-connected children evolving in progressive ways. We need to hear from children and communities, to design the systems of support they need. After all, every child has the right to a childhood.”

The policy brief touches upon two major focus areas: protection risks, including neglect, exploitation by urban gangs, physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and exposure to substance abuse; and educational challenges – street-connected children are a part of the 22.8 million out-of-school- children demographic – which involves choosing between work and school, barriers to entry, and lack of accessibility and quality learning.

It recommends a holistic policy addressing the needs of the street-connected children, which centres on a child rights-based approach to ensure improved access to their rights, especially education and protection.

In terms of legislative reforms, the brief stresses the need to revisit the relevant federal and provincial legislations – especially decriminalizing poverty, homelessness, and deprivation of shelter. Further, it recommends addressing gaps in the child protection laws to include street-connected children, formulating rules of implementation, and harmonization of the age across the child-rights laws.

For increasing access to education, the policy brief recommends implementation of Article 25-A in letter and spirit by enforcing provincial compulsory education laws, expanding the reach of the social welfare net, reducing barriers to entry – age, formal identity documents, including life skills-based curriculum - and partnerships with CSOs.

Finally, to address protection risks, the policy brief recommends actionable items across the entire continuum of care ranging from first responder protocols, safeguarding policies, and capacity building of welfare workers to working with families and communities to create the conditions that will help children stay off the streets. The brief also recommends establishing ‘drop-in spaces’ for hygiene, learning, and recreation - where children can also receive adequate case management services like counselling.