KARACHI: The small, blue-eyed girl roams around congested Saddar, confident among the strangers, unafraid of incoming traffic. There’s a rag in her hand, and she flicks it around in a bid to clean the dirty windscreen of a temporarily parked car.
She is a street child. She has no name. She has no home. In her plight, she is not alone.
In Karachi alone, there are more than 20,000 children living on the streets. They are subjected all kinds of cruelties, and their voices often go unheard.
“Many of these young ones don’t have an identity, since their birth is never registered,” explains Rana Asif, the man behind the Centre for Street Children, a walk-in home for those on the streets seeking help. “If one of them goes missing, the police cannot even register an FIR without an identity.”
On this day in 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Each year, the world commemorates that momentous occasion. This year, the theme is violence against children, one that is especially pertinent when the plight of children is addressed.
Running away with nowhere to go
“There are three kinds of violence that force these children out of their homes,” says Asif. “There is domestic violence, violence at the workplace, including the factories or small shops, and violence in religious settings, like at madrassas.”
According to Asif, once they are out of their homes, these children end up picking litter, engaging in commercial sex, becoming drug addicts, and being victims of violence.
Many of these runaway children are from non-conventional, often abusive, families. Yusuf, 9, would suffer horrific beatings at the hands of his father, for no apparent reason, prompting his escape.
“I would pick up litter and have to hand over my Rs100 to him, as he didn’t work. Now, I keep it for myself,” he says.
Asif agonises over how widespread child labour is. “Just because it is cheap labour, we are damaging those who hold our future in their hands,” he laments.
A 12-year-old clad in shabby clothes, who calls himself Umerdaraz, says he ran away because of his addiction to sniffing glue.
“I love this intoxication, it makes me love the world,” says Umerdaraz. “I left home voluntarily with some older kids. It didn’t matter to me – I don’t like my father or mother, I seldom miss them.”
When asked how he survives, he flatly says he steals iron bars and sells them for cash.
Missing legal frameworks
“There is a law called Employment of Children Act of 1991. However, even the name of the law is quite misleading,” says Asif. “There is no such thing as ‘children employment.”
The Bonded Labour System Abolition Act was passed in 1992 but it is also quite vague, in name and interpretation, he adds.
“Laws and bills are made and passed, but since the rules are never made, there is no implementation,” says Asif sadly.
In 1955, a law called the Sindh Children Act was passed forbidding begging in all its forms. And yet, he says, there are around 114 signals in the city being worked by the begging mafia.
Punjab has a child protection bureau, set up in 2004, that attempts to care for street children and rehabilitate the ones affected by drug abuse and physical abuse.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa set up a similar body in 2010. Sindh has yet to follow suit.
Source: The Express Tribune