Pakistan Streets Safer Than Some Homes

Thousands of children, mostly runaways, roam the streets of Pakistan's major cities to eke out a living, preferring the streets to their homes.

Pakistan Streets Safer Than Some Homes

"I have been on the streets for last two years," Rehan, 12, told in a street of the southern port city of Karachi.

"My father only wanted me to work at a local motor workshop, where I was sexually abused various times. One day, I left," he put it simply.

Rehan works 14 hours a day, collecting garbage and trash from the famous food of Burns Road in a huge bag on his back before selling them to a local recycling factory.

"One day I earn RS 150 (less than 3 dollars), and the next day it may be Rs 100 (less than 2 dollars). There is nothing fixed," he said.

"I do know where my parents are, but I don't want to go back. There is nothing for me, except physical and mental torture."

Around 25,000 children are living in the streets and roads of all the major cities in Pakistan to earn bread and butter for themselves, most of them do not want to return to their families.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 72 percent of street children do not have contact with their families despite the fact they know about their respective families.

These children, who usually come from poor families, sleep in the streets and parks after working or begging daylong.



Ali, 13, is not worried about food but only getting enough money to buy drugs. (IOL photo)

Umair Ali, 13, has been living in the streets for four years after he ran away from home because his family pressurized him to get a job.

"We feel more scared at night because that is when truck drivers and policemen harass us.

"Sometimes we manage to save ourselves, and sometimes not," he told IOL.

"The streets are where we spend our lives."

For Ali, food is not a problem.

"There are a lot of small hotels and restaurants that offer us food so that is never an issue for us. We don't earn to make a living," he noted.

Many well-off Pakistanis donate regular amounts to small hotels to provide food to the poor people.

What really worries the 13-year-old is getting his drugs.

"It's the drugs we need money for."

Yet, that is not an issue for 18-year-old Azhar who has been living in the streets for the last eight years.

"I do not have to bother about that. My senior colleagues provide me that," he said about charas, the name given to hand-made hashish in Pakistan and India.

He admits stealing from parked vehicles and offering sex to his seniors in return for drugs.

Azhar fled his home in Korangi, a low-income locality of Karachi, when he was ten after his parents died because of physical brutality by his older brother.

"I joined a gang of runaways and started taking charas," he recalled.

"I am happy here. I know, I don't have any future, but the situation at home is the same."



Street children fall easy prey to sex abusers. (IOL photo) 

Social experts indicate that children turn to the streets as a result of social disintegration, domestic violence, neglect and family breakdown.

"Urbanization and environmental degradation have led to widespread displacement of rural populations to urban areas - leading in turn to social tensions and a breakdown in family structures," Professor Fateh Muhammad of the Social Work Department of the University of Karachi told IOL.

"This contributes to the increase in street children," he insisted.

He added that street children are mainly engaged in unskilled and usually hazardous labor with limited occupational mobility and prospects for the future.

"These children beg and scavenge around rubbish dumps or industrial waste sites or take on menial jobs as cart pushers or dish washers, working 12-15 hours a day to earn around Rs 100 to Rs 200 — enough to buy a meal if they are fortunate," said the social expert.

Most of the street children sniff cheap, readily available solvents to starve off hunger, loneliness and fear, making them vulnerable to tuberculosis, jaundice and liver or kidney disorders.

"Runaway children abandon their childhood on the streets," maintains Professor Fateh.

Dr Tariq Mahmood of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center warns that street children are at a high risk of sexual abuse.

He notes that some children start offering sexual services and became involved in "survival sex."

"Sexually Transmitted Diseases are found to be highest among these children too, who hardly survive their teenage years," he told IOL.

When denied jobs, most of the street children resort to pick-pocketing or sell sex for their day-to-day survival, agreed Aqsa Naqvi, an official with the Azad Foundation NGO.

Azad Foundation estimates that 14,000 street children are living in the streets of Karachi alone, of them 50 percent fall victim to commercial sex exploitation.

"Consequently, an increasing trend in sex exploitation has been witnessed over the years," Naqvi told IOL.

"As disclosed by many street children they continue to be harassed and sexually abused at the hands of passers-by."

The NGO has set up various drop-in centers in Karachi, where several street children regularly visit for entertainment and food.

Naqvi points out that because street children didn't have any trusted adults or a support system, they prefer to live in groups to feel safer.

Mahmood, the leader of such a group, tries his best to prevent the younger members from abuse.

"I have been on the streets for six years now and after several experiences of abuse, I have become well aware of people's wrong intentions," he told IOL.

He ran away from his home after repeatedly beaten up by his stepmother.

"I try to protect the younger children from abuse as much as I can and even fight for them if I have to, but there are times when abusers overpower us and kidnap the boys they like."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16