ISLAMABAD: Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari on Tuesday reiterated the government’s commitment to justice for street children.

“Justice begins with the basic rights in the constitution; right to health, right to education, right to protection,” said the minister, who was the key note speaker at an event marking International Day for Street Children.

The gathering was a moment to review the challenges experienced by street children in Pakistan, to reinforce

the rights to which they were entitled, and to consider the role of different stakeholders in offering protection and support.

The virtual multi-stakeholder consultation was facilitated by Cities for Children and the Special Parliamentary Committee on Child rights and the SDGs Secretariat, supported by the International Consortium for Street Children.

The theme was “Access for street children” and the discussion was focused on three main elements: who are street children, what are the challenges in access to education, and what are the obstacles in access to justice.

Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat spoke about the implementation challenges in dealing with children on the streets, especially in the context of rising poverty and urban crime.

The roundtable component of the event was moderated by MNA Mehnaz Aziz, convener of the Parliamentary Group on Child Rights.

It started with a video including experiences of children connected to streets and their real struggles in continuing education as well as their interaction with police and law enforcement authorities.

The participants included Sarah Ahmed from the Child Welfare and Protection Bureau in Lahore, MNA Kheso Maal Daas from Sindh, MNA Munawwara Bibi Baloch from Balochistan and Riaz Fatyana.

There was recognition of the multiple identities of street children who belong to communities affected by poverty or displaced by conflict and the war on terror.

An important social protection angle was a representation from the Ehsaas programme.

Speakers talked about the incentives being offered for children to enroll in school, particularly girls, and essential services like free healthcare.

Civil society offered practical perspectives based on their work - from solutions for child protection, to the importance of working closely with communities and tailoring education and protection solutions based on their reality.Some recommendations that emerged were to ensure coordination of efforts across government and civil society with possible formation of an umbrella network.

There was also a need to review the implementation of legislation such as the vagrancy laws that led to criminalisation of street children.

The speakers suggested that the role of shelters and child protection units should be reviewed in order to reach sustainable solutions.

Finally, as summed up by Madeeha Ansari from Cities for Children, it was important to acknowledge the complexity of the situation when it came to street-connected children to understand communities and their constraints and include their voices when crafting policies and programmes that affected them.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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