Forbidden fruit: Toys in hand, joy at an arm’s length

Child street vendors selling the same goods they yearn for


Seven-year-old Basimah (left) awaits customers in Saddar and eight-year-old Ikramullah (right) sells balloons in University Town. PHOTO: MAHWISH QAYYUM/EXPRESS

PESHAWAR:


Surrounded by pretty dolls, people would imagine that seven-year-old Basimah is in kiddy heaven. Yet, she is not allowed to lay a hand on any of these toys as customers are not interested in “damaged goods”.


As Francis Moore Lappe once said, “The real cause of hunger is the powerlessness of the poor to gain access to the resources they need to feed themselves.” The saying rings sadly true for Basimah who spends her spare time wheeling and dealing on the streets instead of playing like other children.



The girl says she accompanies her father every Sunday to help sell toys in Saddar area of the city. “I do this so that I can contribute financially to the family,” she says. A little hesitant to talk in the beginning, the seven-year-old started describing her routine after encouragement from her father. “I do not go to school, but to a madrassah. On every Sunday, which is my day off, I come to help my father sell toys.”

Glancing at the pretty dolls beside her, the girl says she cannot play with them because they are for sale. “If I start, they will get spoilt and nobody will buy damaged dolls,” Basimah says. “I wish to wear clothes like these dolls, but…,” she adds, tailing off midsentence.

When asked how much she earns a day, the girl keeps silent. However, her father interrupts and reveals they take home about Rs500 to Rs600 a day. He adds that the income is not enough to meet their expenses. “I have a family of nine, including seven daughters, and pay Rs3,000 a month for a house in Tehkal,” the father reveals. “It’s very difficult for me to make ends meet.”

Over in University Town, eight-year-old Ikramullah is selling balloons.  “I go to a government school in Tamboano Ada (bus stand) area, but every Sunday I wander the roads and sell balloons.”



Seven-year-old Basimah (left) awaits customers in Saddar and eight-year-old Ikramullah (right) sells balloons in University Town. PHOTO: MAHWISH QAYYUM/EXPRESS



He says that his returns for a day range between Rs50 and Rs70.

The boy helps his father, also a balloon vendor. “I myself do not play with balloons; these are not meant for me—only for those who can afford them.”

There are several other kids contributing to the household income by selling toys, balloons, chocolates and candy. While having an abundance of such goods is every child’s dream, they are of no comfort for Basimah and Ikramullah as life’s luxuries are within an arm’s reach; yet so very far away.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2015. 

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