Naureen Aqueel

Archive for February 2007

An edited version of this article was published in Dawn, Young World.

Asif staggered to a stop near the street light pole and crouched down beside it, his dirty clothes just matching the colour of the pavement where he sat. He watched other children playing jovially in the park across the street. Their giggles echoed in his ears and the sight of mothers lovingly walking their children brought back painful memories.

He remembered the time when his own mother would play with him and spank him playfully for his naughty pranks. Those happy moments although beset by poverty, where shattered after the sudden death of both his parents in an accident. Within days of this incident, Asif was kicked out of the place he called home. Now, the streets were his home and loneliness his family. A tear rolled down his cheek as he watched the children play happily…

Such stories with slight variances are not rare in our country, where an estimated 70,000 children roam on the streets. An NGO by the name “Madadgar helpline” reports that approximately 15,000 of these street children between the ages of seven and fifteen are homeless and roam the alleys of Karachi.

Street children are not only those who are orphaned and homeless, in fact, some run away from home to escape domestic violence, forced labour or ill treatment by their parents. Some are also left in the streets by their own parents and forced into beggary.

Being young and alone, these children are vulnerable to various social evils on the streets. Most often, they fall prey to sexual abuse, drug addiction and crime. As they get to know each other, they gang up and get involved in crimes, pick-pocketing, theft, fights and drug addiction. They often get involved in violent brawls, are injured and treated only if social workers are there to help.

Many also become addicts of glue-sniffing and petrol sniffing from which they gain elation to forget their miseries. Such children are very vulnerable to abuse and violence as well as other evils like kidnappings and subsequent trafficking. A 2003 Madadgar report revealed that more than 252 children were abused in Karachi that year.

One wonders why such children find no other place but the streets to live? Running away from home, being rejected and distanced from the so-called elites of our society for their ‘bad manners’, ‘business of beggary’ and ‘dirty physical appearance’, these children just need the proper guidance with love and care to avoid becoming a part of the evil ‘street children culture’ spiraling up in our cities.

Do these children not have the right to be dressed in nice clothing, to play, to go to school and to be loved? For what fault of theirs are they rejected and shunned from society only to roam about the streets knocking on car windows and pestering passers-by to hand them a rupee or two to help satiate their growling stomachs?

And for that matter, what was the reason for our being born into affluent families where we can have the liberty of scoffing at these ‘dirty creatures’ and snottily fling a coin at them as if they were lesser human beings, later on flaunting our generosity for having helped them. “Where would they be without us?” we ask.

But I still wonder, why did God choose to send us here, and them there? Is our having the blessings a test for us, as to how much we help them? Would God be happy to see our attitude of detest towards them?

The way they are is a result of the circumstances they are in. They don’t have access to the amenities we do. And yet we detest them for their deprivation and isolate them for their differences. We are, in part, responsible for the situations and crimes these children fall into.

Ask any parent and you will find out how strictly they prevent their children from playing out in the streets and going out alone. But who cares for these children? Why can’t we care for them as children’s of our nation, Ummah and humanity?

At the individual level we can help sponsor such children and help them find homes if not in families like ours, in orphanages and welfare institutions where they are fed, educated and given a healthy lifestyle. And at a much smaller level, the next time you encounter such children on the streets give them hope through a smile and kind words.

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February 2007