Islamabad - Imagine how hard life would be if one has little to eat or drink, no shelter or access to healthcare, and no resources to get an education. Imagine how would it feel at a tender age when one sees others wearing expensive clothes, eating delicious meals, and going to school? Unfortunately, this is the life story of a large number of homeless children in the twin cities. The heart-rending reality is they have no hope for a better future.

Bare foot, clad in a dirty dress, and having filthy hair, 12 year old Kiran along with her seven year old sister Nazia, lives under the overhead bridge of 6th Road Metro Station in Rawalpindi.

Kiran is native of Multan. She moved to Rawalpindi when life became difficult for her in Multan. Kiran is the second oldest of her five siblings. Both sisters walk around in the streets of the city scavenging for food. Wherever they find any leftover food, be it by the side of the road, near shops or garbage bins, they eat it. This is how most of their days are spent.

Kiran says that her parents were old and sick. Because of their ailment, they were not in a position to do any kind of physical labour and look after their children. “Now it is left for me to earn a living and fulfil the needs of my siblings,” she said.

“I collect garbage from the homes of people and they pay me in return. Good people do exist in this world. Sometimes they give me 10 to 20 rupees extra and this helps me a lot,” Kiran added.

With tears in her eyes, Kiran adds that the sight of school-going children makes her sad because she cannot imagine being able to afford an education. “I used to follow school going girls and watch them playing in playgrounds of school. I cannot play with them because the guard outside the school gate wouldn’t let me inside,” Kiran added.

She cried that the life of homeless children was always at risk because they had to face violence, and harassment on the streets. “Boys used to tease me but I never let them misbehave,” Kiran said proudly.

There are thousands of Kirans living a homeless existence on the streets of Pakistan. It is estimated that there is 1.2 to 1.5 million street children in major cities of Pakistan. Children under 18, when deprived of shelter, food, health care, education and other fundamental necessities of life and are compelled to make street as their home are known as street children. The major causes of the increasing number of street children are domestic violence, violence at school, poverty, natural as well as man-made disasters, and unemployment. These children are human but they are deprived of all the rights which human beings should possess.

Habiba Salman, a child rights activist, while sharing her concerns about street children said it was the children who worked on the streets, doing menial jobs such as sweeping, begging, and collecting garbage, who were the real children.  She added that education, health facility, food, and shelter were the fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan and it was the responsibility of the government to provide these basic necessities.

Further, Habiba emphasized that keeping in mind the current conditions in which the street children live, child protection in Pakistan was an essential requirement of the hour.

“There were some child protection centres and sweet homes in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but they were unable to fully accommodate all the street children,” she added.

The child rights activist added that although there was a National Child Protection Centre it was “no more than a joke”.

The building, she added, a hostel situated in H-Sector of Islamabad was not very functional and was in need of government attention.

She further said that at the national level there was a child protection act regarding child labor but that it was not implemented the way it should have.

Habiba stressed that this social issue required the urgent attention of not only the government, but also that of NGOs and the society in general.

Adequate budget should be allocated for the welfare of the street children.

Government alone is not responsible for looking into these issues. Institutions such as those of family also carry the responsibility to address these challenges in the society. If each citizen tries to contribute on their part then it is possible for crime free, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan to come into being.

–The writer is a student of FJWU