Sadia is 6 years old.

Or at least that is the best estimate she has of her age.

She is hungry and in search of food. Scavenging the heaps of garbage, she looks for bits and pieces of bread to assuage her hunger. Watching the little child trying to wrest some food from the trash was tragic.

In fact, what is worse than the sight of little children searching garbage dumps for a commodity that should have been a guaranteed right?

Alas, food is a luxury item they cannot afford. They must search for it in the layers of garbage that is piled up across streets and in the dumps whose stench disgusts every ordinary person passing by. However, these kids are immune to the smell.

Their survival depends on the rubbish. Therefore, they are least bothered by the stink and germs. Food is all that matters to them. Survival instincts dominate all other thoughts.

Apart from food leftovers, they also look up things of some quality that can be sold off in the scrap markets. These are their only means of existence. They hardly know of anything better.

For them, the sight of other kids gobbling up pizzas and burgers, and dining at fancy restaurants will always be a distant dream. Climbing up the ladder of social inequality is a herculean task not many would dare to contemplate.

Because that entails immense hardships. For one, these kids need education to improve the prospects of their livelihoods. But can they afford education? If not, who will pay their fees? Given their tender age, can these kids even appreciate the importance of education? And who will compensate the opportunity cost of enrolling in a school in lieu of spending the day in the quest for food and a little income?

These questions have no easy answers. And that makes it difficult for the little kids to set lofty dreams and improve social status. Thus, with circumstances offering no better alternatives, most of them will persist in the garbage dumps. In the process, they will contract various kinds of diseases and end up on death beds before being able to live the full colours of life.

Is this the life we wish to bequeath to our future generations? A life amidst dirt, filth and waste from cradle to the grave? Or can we give them a better future? A living amongst the civilized people and the promise of all amenities of life?

Well, giving them a better future demands social responsibility. In this realm, Pakistan has a chequered record. Despite Pakistanis having a reputation for happily giving away charity, the country still ranks low on social equality.

In Pakistan, the richest few consume more times than the poorest many. The wealthy few live in posh bungalows while the poorest many can hardly afford shelter. The kids belonging to rich families attend the most expensive schools while children of the poor can hardly go to school. And the rich get to wear designer clothes whereas naked kids belonging to poor families are not an uncommon sight anywhere in the country.

Over the years, governments have launched various schemes, including cash transfer programs, to mitigate social inequality in the country. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and the Ehsaas Programme can be counted among these. Likewise, NGOs such as Akhuwat have also gained a reputation for their efforts to shore up incomes of the lower strata. However, there is still much to be accomplished.

For instance, the cash transfer programmes do not provide lasting remedies unless the recipients are able to establish sustainable enterprises with the amount they receive. Successful enterprises also lessen the government’s burden which can then divert the resources to other deserving families. However, if that doesn’t materialise, families remain dependent on government assistance for subsistence.

Secondly, lack of accurate data hampers remedial actions. There is a need to maintain an updated database of households as well as street children that are in need of assistance. This will help formulate a focused strategy and enable a targeted approach in public policy. Knowing who to help, the government can channel its resources to provide the necessary assistance.

Finally, the civil society too needs to step in and play its part. As already highlighted above, wealth distribution in Pakistan is not uniform. Few individuals own most of the country’s resources. They have a greater obligation to help the poor and needy. At the very least, they can sponsor the education of one or two children frequently seen in garbage dumps.

In this way, we can build a better future for our kids and give them a life full of prosperity. As responsible citizens, it is our national duty to ensure that kids like Sadia don’t end up in the garbage dumps. Rather they go to school and contribute to this country as informed and educated citizens. These kids are our assets. We cannot let them go to waste.

In this regard, any dereliction of duty on our part will be culpable negligence.