The comforts of home are a thing of the past for Raheem, 15, and his brother Aleem, 7. The two children fled their home in Muzaffarabad only to end up on the streets in Rawalpindi.
A roadside hotel near Faizabad was their only refuge, where they were forced into drugs and other unhealthy activities. “At midnight, the owner of the hotel would call us into his room and ask to watch (porn) movies with him and smoke,” said Raheem. He said they missed their cosy beds, freshly-cooked meals, crisp uniform and most of all, motorbike rides with their parents on weekends. But their mother’s death changed all of that for the worse.
It was the brutal treatment of their stepmother that drove them out of the house. “I wanted to become a doctor and my brother wanted to be an army man,” said a distraught Raheem.
Unfortunately, theirs is not a unique case. Currently, there are over 1.5 million street children in the country, reports Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.
Child protection experts state the future and health of street children in Pakistan is at stake as they are prone to communicable diseases, drug abuse, assault, trafficking and crime.
When contacted on the International Street Children Day (Thursday), rights activists, Sarah Asad and Samina Sardar, listed some factors that force children on to the streets. These include poverty, corporal punishment, ignorance of families, step parents, peer pressure and natural disasters among others. They expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s lack of initiative on child protection. “There are no long term projects in the country to protect these children,” said Asad.
They called for creating awareness among families and teachers about child rights. The passage and effective implementation of child protection bill can be a way to eliminate the problem, said Sardar.
An official working with Children’s Complaint Cell, on a condition of anonymity, said currently an increase in the number of orphans in the country due to militancy is one of the biggest challenges that the government is facing.
It is feared that the majority of these children will end up on streets, trafficked or used for unhealthy activities. However, the government is working to appoint an ombudsperson for children, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.