Streets of death

Published March 2, 2024

A LIFE without a sense of permanence is one aspect of a human crisis as complex as homelessness. But the fact that our destitute are unsafe due to administrative neglect should be a matter of national shame. A hit-and-run accident left three shelterless siblings dead and two others wounded when a family, asleep on a footpath in Karachi, was run over by a speeding car on Wednesday. Although warnings and solutions have come thick and fast for long, they went unheeded. In 2022, the National Commission on the Rights of the Child put the number of street children in Pakistan at 1.5m. The figure has since, in line with inflation, risen. Informal estimates say that around 20m people in Pakistan are homeless. In 2020, experts stated that Karachi’s “housing demand is 120,000 units per year”.

Homelessness in a moribund economy becomes more than the absence of an address. It is wedged between socioeconomic issues — unemployment, paltry wages, high lodging costs, drug addiction, poor health — and social desertion among others, leaving multitudes, especially women and children, vulnerable to disease, crime, drug abuse, begging, climate crises, exploitation by the human trafficking mafia — and death by rash drivers. The state simply cannot cut corners; rehabilitation initiatives, aided by provisions for education and employment, are an absolute necessity. Support in childhood, social empowerment for the marginalised with a vision to deliver housing and shelter facilities is the duty of every stakeholder. Moreover, the journey to save citizens is futile without a sensitised, disciplined thana culture. At present, street dwellers are rarely seen as even statistics by the police; most crimes against them and their deaths go unreported. Lastly, a surfeit of CCTV cameras and breathalysers should be put to use as tools to track rash drivers and book offenders for manslaughter. No more time should be lost in bringing the dispossessed to the mainstream for Pakistan to see better times.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2024

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