As the world population reaches 8 billion people, half of this population rise is from Asia. Over 3% of this population is from Pakistan with an average of 3.6 children born to a woman, accordingly to data released by UNFPA. By 2050, the global population is expected to exceed 10 billion people. With the rise in poverty, food insecurity and water scarcity on the rise, the fate of our children today is hanging by a thread.
Access to equitable healthcare is the basic human right of every citizen of our country but the quality of equitable healthcare is not accessible to the vast majority. We as a country need to come up with evidence-based data to accurately pinpoint the root cause and address it with actions that are accountable and not merely review the population numbers.
As we reflect on this agenda, we must also look around us beyond our neighborhoods and alleys and present a real-time picture of our cities that are being populated by the rising population of young children begging on the streets- a phenomenon that is now being associated with the beggar mafia operating in large-scale city populations.
Understanding the matter better
What we see today on the streets is a huge surge in street children populations on the street, both in urban and rural settings in most parts of the country. Not only is this a worldwide issue, but a major thriving illegal business in third-world nations like Pakistan. Due to the socio-economic situations prevailing in the country, lack of parental guidance, or irresponsible parenthood, we are making our own child populations vulnerable on the streets.
In the past, many attempts to prevent this growing menace, from the implementation of the law to remove them from the streets have failed to result in zero results. To address this entire problem, we need to start working in clusters to engage these street children in order to identify the real reason why they are forced to come on the street. Could be easy money or worse.
To start with, we need to collect data on 10 to 16 years old children, who have been connected to their families so we can build a strategy on how to unite them back with their families under a community support mechanism including their parents. Under Article 25-a, the state has the mandate to look after such children by ensuring their education needs are met. Here government schools can play an active role, if we can operate corruption free when it comes to institutional reform, through access to government services.
Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), clearly states that ‘ governments must find ways to find children the space and time for play, recreation and relaxing in a safe happy environment, to get opportunities to explore and understand their own culture. Here, governments can help children get access to libraries, theater, museums, festivals and other conducive activities giving them the right to play- to breathe and thrive.
Children are abused on the streets for the lack of a safe and secure environment and a lot of them are sexually and emotionally abused. Not knowingly, we are nurturing the birth of the next generation of criminals, in a society where justice is easily bought and laws are broken every day.
Public awareness through media and film must be encouraged to highlight these problems so that the average viewership population can be reached via telethons and documentaries, as part of the environmental awareness campaign. By securing these children away from the street life of crime and punishment, we may be able to give them a better chance at a good life.
Design a program. Identifying those families whose children are there on the streets by stabilizing at-risk families through education ( for children) and financial assistance for the families, especially for the young ‘girl child’, saving her from rape, drugs and other heinous crimes. Loans can be given to them via SMEs, so that they may start a small business. For instance, small loans to set up a fruit stall or a tea shop, or even a tailoring store can result in creating a livelihood for the entire family, away from the streets.
Furthermore, through this program, we can put together a training module for the families to equip them for job opportunities and skill development. Examples include cookery, carpentry, plumbing, etc. When a young street child gets a slight education in a sheltered setting, he or she builds confidence to earn an honest living and be a self-reliant member of society, instead of a sexually abused, mentally unstable criminal mind, capable of hurting other people.
The inclusion of street children puts them on the right track
If the governments can allocate billions in non-development expenditures, they can certainly find the budget to fund such long-term projects at a nominal allocation of funds, focusing on street children, their formal and informal education, life skills and vocational training, empowering the future workforce for the country.
Further micro-finance support can also be provided to such parents, to further secure their children, reducing their chances of migrating back to the streets once the families become self-sufficient. The culture of slavery and illiteracy, child labor and abuse are the reason street crimes are always on the rise for the last many decades.
By further engaging the corporate sector, CSR activities can be used to get institutional ownership of the problem. Networking with local government and other service providers can also assist NGOs in combating this ‘street children’ phenomenon which has become a menace. Special notice must be taken on the crime syndicates that operate in pockets of big cities, controls hordes of beggars on the street, selling drugs and sex through street children.
Read more: Policing organized crimes in Pakistan
Rights to health and education, freedom from torture and slavery and above all, the right to a sustainable, healthy and clean environment is a basic ‘Childs Rights’ and must be endorsed by respective governments. This should also be taken in the parliament for debate and implementation as law. Nine out of ten street children are exposed to air pollution, disease and malnutrition while another lot is subjected to emotional abuse and neglect. Most of them are also forced into prostitution and drug peddling. It is all happening on our streets but no one seems to be concerned.
No one is born a criminal. Yet, some of these street children are thrown into the world of crime, depriving them of their innocence and sincerity by maniacs and gang lords, who are connected with the powerful underground mafia, engraved within the dirty fabric of our corrupt system.
If we look closely, we are surrounded by a concrete jungle where precious lives are devoured by relentless predators while our law enforcement and justice system ignore the gravity of this crisis. Children are our most precious assets and are the future youth of the nation. Right now, they are on the streets and are under threat, to be destroyed forever.
The government must focus on the protection of these children and the eventual prevention of street crimes, build empathy for these children through public awareness campaigns, create shelter homes for them, provide them with uniforms and books for school and feed them three meals a day. It is the need of the time for the country to shine as a true welfare state.
This life-long investment in our children on the streets will reduce child labor, increase mental health, improve primary health care, curb child violence and ensure social justice. The time now for collective action using our social courage and moral fabric to raise the voice for the voiceless ‘street children of Pakistan’.
The writer works with the health sector and writes on international relations, the environment, the economy and social justice. He is a distinguished broadcaster and writer. He tweets on @zeeshan8244998. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.