Living rough

Published April 13, 2024

WE either don’t see them or don’t want to see them — not even when they are actively trying to get our attention. In fact, we have become so desensitised to the phenomenon of children living and working on the streets that they have come to represent ‘just another inconvenience’ of our daily lives. The International Day for Street Children was observed yesterday, and it is worth taking a moment to come to terms with the dimensions of this obscene crisis. Experts believe that anywhere between 1.5 to 2.5m Pakistani children can be categorised as ‘street children’ — those who either live on the streets of our cities or are forced to work on them. Multiple studies have reiterated that low income/ poverty is the primary reason why children are pushed to the streets and, disquietingly, it is usually the parents of these children doing the pushing. At the same time, it is also fairly common for ‘mentors’, to whom children may have been entrusted by their families, to be exploiting them for economic gain.

On the streets, these children face an extremely cruel life. Verbal abuse from the general public is the most common harm they face, and beatings and other forms of physical abuse can be routine. It has been well-documented that street children also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of paedophiles preying on their vulnerability. While many NGOs have been striving to alleviate the plight of street children, broader societal action is also needed. For example, we can demonstrate more compassion and empathy: even small acts of kindness can make a significant difference in these children’s lives. As we understand the relevance of the International Day for Street Children, we must pledge to not only acknowledge their existence but also work towards creating a society where no child is condemned to the streets and every child’s right to a safe, nurturing environment is upheld.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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