During 2010 following the devastating floods, SPARC conducted a study entitled ‘Surviving the Streets’ to assess situation of street children in major cities, including Multan.
Most of the children interviewed were living with their families; however, approximately 20% of the children were living on the streets. Most of the interviewed children were illiterate and only a small number of children had undergone primary schooling.
SPARC regards any child a street child who has not reached adulthood, and for whom the street has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, directed, and supervised by responsible adults.
Street children generally fall in two main categories: children of the street and children on the street.
“Children of the street” are homeless children who live and sleep on the streets in urban areas. They are totally on their own, living with other street children or homeless adult street people. On the other hand, “children on the street” earn their living or beg for money on the street and return home at night.
Street children live in exceptionally difficult circumstances and are a highly vulnerable group. They are especially at risk of abuse, discrimination and stigma as well and other human rights violations, including lack of access to education, healthcare, food and adequate living conditions.
Street Children in Pakistan
The number of street children in Pakistan is estimated to be between 1.2 million to 1.5 million. These children end up on the streets due to many factors including, poverty, neglect, family problems, natural disasters and displacement, violence in homes and schools and lack of adequate employment, education and social welfare systems. Once on the streets, these street children then become even more vulnerable to other abuses including drug-addiction, trafficking and sexual abuse.
Some of the risks faced by street children include homelessness, malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and marginalization from mainstream society. These children easily become victims of organized criminal gangs, drug pushers and begging mafias who take these children under their wings and use them in criminal activities. Street children are also found to be involved in risky behaviors including commercial sex and drug abuse.
A behavioral study of adolescents in seven districts of Pakistan revealed that a large number of street children, including females were involved in commercial sex and drug abuse including the use of inhalants, hashish and injectible drugs and sharing needles and syringes.
There are ongoing efforts to assist street children through various programs including rehabilitation centers by the government and centers by civil society organizations that provide psycho-social counseling, some basic health and education services. Some of them attempt to reunite street and runaway children with their families.
The Beginning of SPARC’s Centers for Street Children:
SPARC has been working with street children in Peshawar since 2006. During a span of three years (2009-2011) and with Kindernothilfe’s support, SPARC was able to establish three more street children centers at Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Multan. Later, a center for children of liberated peasants was established in Sikandarabad Hari Camp with the help of Good Neighbors International (“GNI”). The funding for the Sikandarabad center came to an end in December 2015 whereas SPARC is running CSC Multan through its own resources. It also looks up to philanthropists to join the noble cause of protection of vulnerable children.
The objective of CSCs is to improve the quality of life of street children; and in this regard the CSCs offers the following services to the children visiting it:
- Health and Hygiene sessions
- Indoor Sports
- Recreational Trips
- One meal a day & refreshments
- Non Formal Education
- Mainstreaming into the Government Schools
- Skills Training
- Medical Care
- Psycho-social Counseling & Life Skill Guidance
- Referral of Runaway Children to the Child Protection Bureaus
Each CSC has been benefiting approximately more than 2,000 children annually. Some of the children were runaways from homes and SPARC reunited them with their families. Many of the children receiving non-formal education have been main-streamed by getting them admitted in the local schools. Children doing skill training were many a times given sewing kits and other related stuff to help them continue with their work at home.
The CSCs, apart from establishing close contacts with the Street Children through a team of its social mobilizers, has established linkages with the Child Protection and Welfare Bureaus in the Provinces, Schools, Darul Aman (a government run center which provides support to female runaways), and police.
The CSCs staff also conducts lectures in the community to apprise them about the functioning of the Center, about health and hygiene and about the effectiveness of getting children educated.
SPARC has a long association with the civil society organizations and continues to maintain these contacts and network with them.
The overall purpose of the CSC is to provide a child friendly environment where the disadvantaged children can come in for a few hours every day, learn new skills, acquire education, spend leisure time and have access to food, water and sanitation facilities. The strategy revolves around ways to attract more street children, motivate them, win trust of their parents and equip them with skills to meet their essential needs.
With regard to Social Mobilization, SPARC promotes child-to-child approach where street children are encouraged to refer their fellow street children to the CSC. The social mobilization covers local area vendors, shopkeepers and parents and tries to mobilize their support for the CSC initiatives. Social mobilization is the primary way to identify vulnerable children and involve the community.
Vocational training is one of the value added measures to enable Street Children to earn a decent living. This is an incentive for parents to send their children to the Center rather than remain on the streets. In addition to skills training for girls, specialized short term training courses are offered for boys in the CSC, and start up material is given to trainees at the successful completion of every training course to enable them to earn a livelihood. This effort empowers socio-economically marginalized children and their families.
SPARC provides Non-Formal Education basic literacy and numeracy training to Children visiting the CSC and tries its utmost to mainstream them to regular schools. The NFE syllabus is based on credentials that may enable them to cope better with a formal education system. Generally, children are provided NFE for three months, followed by attempts to mainstream them into government schools; however, Children can avail the NFE facility for as long as they like.
Abject living conditions subject children to psychological stress. A psychologist is present to provide counseling to the children at the CSC to provide them
Life Skills & Psychosocial Support.
Families of runaway children are counseled with home visits whenever required. The children can continue to avail psychosocial support as long as they desire.
SPARC regularly organizes free Medical Camps & Doctors’ Visits for the children and the community in general. Unwell children are routinely referred to a doctor. Doctors monthly visit the CSC to ensure timely healthcare to children.
The strategy of Community Sensitization & Visibility is aimed at increased visibility of the CSCs through awareness and fund raising campaign. The community is encouraged to visit and observe CSCs working and contribute to its functioning in kind or financially.
SPARC goes for a Referral Mechanism approach which entails requesting government departments and NGOs working for street children to extend their services to needy children. This includes Baitul Maal and other organizations.
SPARC provides Entertainment & Recreational Activities at each CSC. For instance, each CSC is equipped with a TV for children to watch cartoons and other relevant programs. Indoor games are encouraged. Recreational visits to parks, and picnic spots for exposure, recreation and educational purposes regularly are arranged.
How can you help the street children? As a responsible citizen you can refer any child whom you feel can avail the facilities at any of SPARC’s Centers for Street Children on the address or contact numbers given here. You can also support the Centers by volunteering your services or donating material or money to the Center.
CSC Rawalpindi: Non-Formal Education and Mainstreaming of Children into Local Government Schools
CSC Medical Camps and Doctors’ Visits