Survival of the fittest

Updated 12 Nov 2014

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More than 1.2 million children live on the streets of Pakistan. Most of them are physically and sexually abused and end up finding solace in drugs. — AFP/File
More than 1.2 million children live on the streets of Pakistan. Most of them are physically and sexually abused and end up finding solace in drugs. — AFP/File

It was late at night and Tanveer was sleeping in an abandoned Shehzore truck in Saddar. The vehicle had mattresses and pillows made out of old soft drinks bottles and a number of boys took turns sleeping there throughout the day.

Six older boys approached him.

“One of them bound my hands. The other covered my mouth; another took off my clothes, then one began to punch me, and another one began forcibly having sex with me,” recalls Tanveer. “If I had access to poison I would have taken it. Afterwards I could not talk to anyone about this, nor did I have the words to describe what had happened to me.”

More than 1.2 million children live on the streets of Pakistan. Most of them are physically and sexually abused and end up finding solace in drugs.

Also read: Pakistan’s Hidden Shame: Documentary reveals horrors of pedophilia in K-P

Tanveer left his house at the age of 12 after having a disagreement with his father. He roamed the streets washing cars and running errands; anything to help make ends meet.

“Saddar has a lot of hotels so breakfast and lunch is available. You can eat three meals a day if you look for the right places,” he says.

But living on the streets did take its toll on him.

“The children with whom I used to live were all addicts, they used to indulge in drugs and they encouraged me to join them.”

There was immense peer pressure on him to begin using hard drugs. He took up smoking and eating gutka but refrained from “powder” and inhaling Samad Bond. One day a friend of his overdosed and died in front of his eyes.


The kids cleaning our car windows, scrounging for garbage and asking to eat our leftovers outside restaurants have names, families and a story


That was a rude awakening for Tanveer. He vowed to give up everything.

“I began to cry and from that day I stopped smoking and using any intoxicants. I did not want to end up like him,” he says. Then Tanveer says something that puts his life and the life of children living on the streets in perspective:

“A street child cannot say anything. He has no one to turn to. He bottles up all his frustrations, and starts indulging in drugs, and this is how he ends up dead at the Edhi centre; where an unmarked grave is prepared for him. That is our end.”

When I met Tanveer he had turned his life around. He was working with Initiator Human Development Foundation (BIHDFB) a non-profit organisation that works to rescue children from the streets and re-integrate them into society. Tanveer is now a street motivator. He encourages those that are homeless to develop skills, find jobs and works to re-integrates them into their families.

“The job of the motivator is to take to the streets, to listen and to understand the needs of those out there. We are very conscious of the fact that we should not scare the children. I go sit down with them so that they feel that I am a part of the group and that I will not harm them. You must know that children get scared quite easily. The mafia and the police take advantage of the street kids, so they are very conscious,” Tanveer explains.

He works tirelessly to plant the idea in the heads of the children that their lives can change. He gives his own example of how he was able to turn around his life with the help of IHDF.

Explore: I am Agha: The plight of a street child

Imagine being abandoned or leaving home to live on the unforgiving streets of Pakistan. The boys we see washing our car windows, scrounging for garbage and asking to eat our left overs have names, families and a story. We just see their faces peering through our car windows and often wave them away.

Tanveer’s story opened up my eyes about the kind of lives these children lead. More importantly, it instilled in me hope that their lives can be turned around. That a simple act of kindness on our part, a job, an offer of education, a helping hand can really go a long way.

Tanveer didn’t do this alone, a man who has dedicated his life to helping street children got him to turn his life around. Rana Asif Habib, who heads IHDF, has worked tirelessly for years to rehabilitate children. This is a thankless job; there are no awards or accolades for his non-profit struggles to make ends meet. Yet, he smiles and approaches every day with a ‘can-do’ attitude. He knows he is making a difference and that’s all that counts.

Also read: Footprints: The orphans of war

“I like my life … When I started my job I was earning Rs7000 and now I earn Rs15,000. This is not just a job and an office, for me, it is my home. I will never be able to forget the memories I have created here,” Tanveer says with a smile.

“What they have done for me, I doubt anyone else would do it for me. I think that now I am doing a good deed and I hope Allah rewards me for the work that I am doing over here.”

To support the work of Initiator Human Development Foundation (BIHDFB), visit: http://www.initiator.org/aboutus.php

To watch Tanveer’s story: http://www.aaj.tv/aes/child-abuse.html

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 9th, 2014