A street child is “any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) 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 organised 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 programmes including rehabilitation centers by the government and drop in 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.
Drop-in Centres for Children Living and/or Working on Streets
Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) a non-profit non-governmental organization working for the protection and promotion of child rights in Pakistan has established Drop-in Centers (DICs) in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Multan with the support of Kindernothilfe (KNH).
Children living and/or working on streets in and around the project area are the main beneficiaries.
The overall purpose of the DICs is to protect children living and/or working on the streets from violence and abuse and to provide them a child friendly environment where they 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.
More specifically, the DICs provide the following services:
Children who come to the DIC on a regular basis are provided with non-formal education. Each DIC has one teacher for providing non-formal education and to help mainstream those children who are willing to seek formal education. Such children are then enrolled in nearby government schools with the support of the local education department.
The DICs have established linkages with local education department and schools in order to facilitate the mainstreaming of those children who are regularly attending non formal classes and wish to receive formal education.
Life Skills Based Education
Street children enrolled in the DICs are offered vocational training in a number of fields including tailoring, computer hardware, mobile phone repairing, jewelry making, candle making etc. The purpose of these trainings is to equip these children with some marketable skills and help them to increase their earning capacities and support themselves.
Psychosocial and Medical Support
In each DIC, a qualified and trained psychologist is present on full time basis to provide psychosocial counseling to these children. Each child is assessed individually and on the basis of that evaluation is provided with counseling sessions.
Children enrolled in the DICs are given monthly medical checkups. A medical doctor is present in each DIC who maintains a separate file for each child and updates it on regular basis. In case further medical help is required the child is referred to a hospital or a specialist.
Food and Hygiene
Children enrolled at the DICs are provided with snacks and lunch on a daily basis. The meals are prepared by a cook who is supervised by the DIC manager.
Street children coming to the DICs have access to clean water, washing and sanitation facilities. In addition, they are also informed about the importance of basic health and hygiene matters.
Reunification of runaway/separated children with families
A number of unaccompanied children found either on streets or at bus stands are referred to these centers by various stakeholders including shopkeepers, bus stand unions and other civil society organizations. The DICs try to trace the families of these missing/runaway children in order to reunify them. For this purpose linkages have been developed with social welfare departments, the police and government established shelter homes where these children are placed till the time it takes to trace and reunify them with their families.
How can you help street children: As a responsible citizen you can refer such children to the DIC on the address or contact numbers given below:
House no 3214, Street no 1, Sikandar Town
House no 5043, Street no 29, Mohall Chudrian
Fuji Colony Pir wadahi
Phone # 051-5492444
House no A-37/38, Calhora Colony, Near Eye Hospital
Phone # 0222-612203
House 95-G, Street 1, Shah Rukne alam
Back side of Global College, near underpass