Home bound: Runaway children return for uncertain reunion

50 children set out from Karachi to be reunited with their families.


Aroosa Shaukat July 17, 2013
50 children set out from Karachi to be reunited with their families.

LAHORE:


A bus that left an Edhi Home in Karachi on July 12, with the aim of reuniting 50 children with their families, made its way to Lahore on Wednesday morning.


As many as eight of the children, aged 8 to 16, are from Lahore.

The children sat waiting at the Edhi Home’s zonal office in Allama Iqbal Town showing a myriad of emotions ranging from hope and happiness to anxiety and fear.

Earlier that day, Hamza, 14, was re-united with his family in Chungi Amr Sidhu after being missing for over three years.

The youngest of the children from Lahore, Razzaq, 8, has been staying at the Edhi Home since May 2012. The only thing he remembers about home is that it is in a katchi abaadi close to the Lorry Adda But Razzaq recalls how he came to be at the Edhi Home in Karachi. “My brother took me to Karachi saying he would admit me to a school… but he abandoned me there,” he says. He later learnt that his father had asked his brother to take the then 7-year old to Karachi where he would work at a house in return for money. Razzaq is the youngest of five siblings - four sisters and an elder brother.



Irfan Ahmed of the Edhi Information Bureau at the Lahore office says, “Most of these children ran away from their homes.”  He said that the addresses of 15 children (out of the 50) have been identified. “They were either scolded or beaten up by their parents or guardians regularly,” Ahmed says, “At times, even the fear of being beaten up forces children to leave their homes.”

Arsalan, 10, and Adil, 12, share a similar story. Both hail from Heera Mandi, Shahi Mohalla, an area notorious for prostitution. “I left home because I was scared of being hit all the time,” Arsalan said. He claims that his maternal uncles used to beat him for failing to do his chores. He was sent to an Edhi Home in 2010.

Adil has been at an Edhi Home since 2006. He claims that he left his house because his father used to beat him. “I still miss my parents a lot,” said the 12-year-old. He says he is happy to go home, “Although I’m scared that my father will still be angry at me.”

“We have to be very careful while handing over these children to [their] families,” said Amanullah, who is in charge of an Edhi Home in Karachi. He has been working with Edhi for over 20 years and accompanied these children. A lot of them went to Karachi via train, he said. “It is easy to spot an unaccompanied child in buses,” he says, “People assume the children on trains are with a family.”

Yasir, 11, a resident of Rang Mahal, left his house earlier in May this year. He too left for Karachi on a train, only to be identified as an abandoned child by the police when the train stopped in Hyderabad. He was later handed over to the Edhi Centre and moved to a home in Karachi.

Of the 50 children that left Karachi, six of them from Sindh have been reunited with their families. As many as 30 of them are from the Punjab, and seven are from Peshawar and Quetta. “Edhi sahib accompanied us the last time, but he couldn’t join us this time because of his health,” said Amanullah. The last trip was in 2007, says Amanullah, when as many as 45 children were reunited with the families. “We could not trace the families of 7 of them and so they returned to their Edhi Home in Karachi,” he said.

Other children from Lahore include Ahmed Javed, 13, who has been at an Edhi Home since May. Omar, 13, has been there since February 2012. Both of them are from Shahdara Town.  Mohammad Qasim, 16, a resident of Sheikhupura, was left at an Edhi centre in 2010 by his family.

Amanullah will head out to other parts of the province and later to Islamabad on Thursday (today). The convoy’s last stop will be in Quetta after which the children who could not be re-united will be taken back to Karachi.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.

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