By Saeeda Aman
“Streetism” is a terminology used to describe children dwelling on the streets. In everyday life, we come across children working on the streets, because they depend on the streets for their survival. Not all of these children are homeless. They may live in an inappropriate or slum area with their family but for their living, they depend on the streets.
An estimated 100 million children live on the streets worldwide. In Pakistan, about 1.5 million children are reportedly on the street. This is an estimated value, not exactly counted, as there is no mechanism in the census to count these children.
There are various reasons for children being on the street; every child has their own story and it varies from county to county, city to city, and child to child. But there are some universal reasons.
Poverty, definitely, plays a major role. Due to poverty parents urge the children, or the child himself/ herself comes on the street to help his/her family financially. Though they earn very little, even less than one dollar per day, it still adds to their hand-to-mouth family income or helps them to fulfill their personal needs.
Another reasons are parents’ death, war and natural disaster, which brings children to the street for their survival. Violence and abuse at home are among the top reasons compelling children to leave their home and end up in streets, begging and picking trashes for their survival. Al-Jazeera reported in 2014 that 66% of the children on the streets in Pakistan are “runaways”.
These children are most vulnerable, as they come across physical, sexual, and drug abuses daily. These are the most unreported, uncounted, segment of society and little care is taken of these children.
Someone needs to take care of them.
A decade ago, street children were not seen in Gilgit city. Unfortunately, however, the number of these children are increasing day by day. A large number of the children laboring on the streets in Gilgit are not locals, but there are many local children also, scavenging for survival.
The hard-working residents of the area had never felt the need in the past to beg in the market or go door to door for begging. If a child became an orphan it was his/her immediate family’s responsibility to take care of the child until he/she is capable to take his/her responsibility. There was no concept of a street child, a child living off begging, or surviving by collecting trash.
Things have changed, however, due to economic pressures, as well as due to loosening of social ties. It has, tragically, become a routine to see children begging and collecting leftovers from market areas and in the streets of Gilgit.
This is a very serious matter to be noticed. These children get physically and sexually abused on daily basis. They are used for crimes and in many cases get addicted to drugs. They need to be protected.
It should be investigated and find out where from these children come to the street? If they are local then why are they on the streets? Their parents or relatives should be contacted to find out reasons for sending children to the streets. If their parents are alive then what are the reasons these children are begging. If they are not alive, then I am sure there must be an organization, a private or government organization, working for the protection of orphan children. If they are not locals then wherefrom these children come and who support them in reaching Gilgit? What should be the responsibility of the government and non-government organizations for the support mechanism of such a child?
We hear about the kidnapping of children in various cities from different news channels. It is most probable that some of the kidnapped kids end up in our region.
Ironically, in many cases these children beg in the vicinity of police stations, but remain ‘unnoticed’.
The social welfare department has a major role to play in addressing the issues at this nascent stage. Protections and procedures need to be put in place to ensure that the children, locals or otherwise, are cared for.
The civil society has equal responsibility to play their role for the safeguard of street children. They can at least raise their voices for these children.
Let’s take our beloved Gilgit back to a time when children begging on the streets, or living as scavengers, was not acceptable.