The cheerful voices of children playing in parks and sight of them strolling to school with their parent are the signs of happy healthy little beings growing up with good likelihood of bright prospects. Not all children are in this ideal situation. Many of them are living in horrendous circumstances where sky is their roof and streets are their life-line on which they live and sleep. ‘Street children’ is a term used to refer to homeless children living without any parental or guardian support. They have no basic right to food, health and education. It is estimated that there are approximately 120 million children living on streets in the world (http://childrensrightsportal.org). These children usually reside on railway platforms, abandoned buildings, under bridges, markets, bus stations and hazardous waste landfills. Street children are also known as homeless youths, parking boys, vendors, rag-pickers, shoe-shine boys, porters etc in different parts of the world. It is because of the escalating awareness publicized by the national and international agencies about the social problems pertaining to the street children, these children are considered to be a vulnerable group in need of special attention.
Unicef has two different categories to refer to children who work on streets and those who work as well as sleep on streets. Children who are completely on their own, working and sleeping on the streets are classified as ‘’children of the street’’. On the other hand, children who work on streets and go back to their families to sleep at night are grouped as ‘’ children on the street’’. Children end up living on streets either because their families had abandoned them or children themselves had decided to leave their family members (http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/ZIM_01-805.pdf). Although children under both the categories are deprived of fundamental right to food, shelter, health and education, the distinction is important as some children are fortunate to have connections with families and a home to return to at night. Children opt to live on streets to for number of factors. Those include domestic factors like family conflicts or parental abuse, economic factors like poverty, social factors like attraction of urban livelihood in comparison to village life, and political factors like war and displacements caused by natural disasters.
The advancement in technology and expansion of industrialised urban areas attracts many families from villages. Some of the families migrating to cities manage to have a roof over them whereas many are left without shelter which compels many children to live on streets. Poverty also forces many children to work on streets and because they are not well educated and skilled, they often end up doing petty work like shoe shining, street trading, cleaning cars etc. Children facing severe abuse and physical injuries at home also tend to take refuge in streets to avoid the distress (Shelter Don Bosco). Regardless of the reasons given for children living street lives without any family or social support, they all are exposed to harsh living conditions, malnutrition, diseases. In addition, many innocent children become subjects of sex abuse, alcohols and drugs and are recruited by organised criminal gangs.
For the welfare of street children, many international agencies and government organisations are running health, wellbeing and education and training programmes. These programmes aim at supporting street children and their families to prevent them from returning to street lives. Muslim Aid being an international faith based charity also helps street children in Islamabad, Pakistan, through its ‘street to school’ project. Through two child care centres, 114 children aged 8-12 at Tarlai and Barma town were given formal and informal education in 2009. Many children living in these areas were garbage collectors. After completing the primary level education at the centres, these children had the opportunity to pursue secondary education. The centres focuses at fostering the personalities of street children by using creative teaching methods, moral sessions including eating manners, respect for teachers and importance of truth and tidiness , skill development like painting and calligraphy and other activities. The child care centres are continuing to develop street children’s character and individual qualities. Furthermore, the centres also organise awareness campaigns to promote street children issues amongst majority population.
*The copyright of this article is held by the Information and Public Affairs Department of Muslim Aid, UK. Use of its contents is allowed subject to acknowledgement. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent the point of view of Muslim Aid.
Information & Public Affairs Department
Girls at the centre