After spending the last two Eids with other boys in a dull shelter home, Aamir is ecstatic at the prospects of spending this one at home with his family.
"I am so happy to be going home for Eid," smiled the boy gleefully, clinging onto his father, who he was seeing after a year and a half.
The 13-year-old was one of the 13 runaway children, recently handed over by the Punjab Child Protection Bureau to the Sindh government. Two of them were reunited with their families on Thursday at a ceremony organised by the Social Welfare Department and the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC).
Aamir's father, Mohammad Yasin, a rickshaw driver observed the boy closely before remarking that he looked healthier. "He was studying in a school when he was under government care so I will also make him study here."
Aamir had run away from his home in Khuda Ki Basti to escape his father's beatings. "I used to beat him because he was hanging out with the wrong crowd," said the father dejectedly. "But I won't hit him now."
The boy had gotten on a bus to Multan, hoping to find his relatives in his hometown. On reaching there, he found himself in a strange city with no money and no way of contacting his relatives or family members.
However, officials of the Child Protection Authority found him loitering on the streets and took him under their care, before shifting him to their office in Lahore.
For many months, Yasin had no information about the son and had lost all hope of finding him. It was around three months ago that he was told about his son's whereabouts. "I was longing to meet him but did not have the money to bring him to Karachi. I am so happy he is here."
Apart from Aamir, another boy, Shan, was also reunited with his family as his uncles and father came to receive him.
Around 19 runaway or missing children from all over Sindh were found by Punjab's Child Protection Bureau in Lahore. According to the authorities, six families came to Lahore to receive their children, while the remaining 13 were sent to Karachi and arrived here on Wednesday.
Amin, an officer from Lahore, said that some children had been missing for the last seven years.
CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy said he was directed by the Sindh government to try to locate the families, after they were contacted by the Punjab government. "We are happy that the children are back safely and hope to reunite all of them with their parents before Eid."
Families of three other children have been traced while efforts are being made to trace the others, he said. For the time being, they will be housed at Darul Atfal.
The special assistant to the chief minister for social welfare, Ziaul Hassan Lanjar, said that till the families are located, his department would support the children. The minister added that work on a rehabilitation centre for street children and beggars, was in progress.
Muhammad Asif, whose family has been traced, says that he will be careful when making new friends. "One of my friends took me to Lahore and left me at Data Darbar," he revealed. "I would work at the mandi carrying fruits and spend the nights at the mazar."
There were some like Shehzad who did not want to go home. He had run away six years ago after being mistreated by his stepmother. "I went to Lahore but then came back home," he recalled with teary eyes. "She would hit me and never give me food so I ran back to Lahore. I don't want to go back."
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2014.