Street children in twin cities work as labourers, beggars for a living



Dressed up in shabby clothes and broken dirty slippers, many children can be seen roaming the streets of Rawalpindi and Islamabad to eke out a living.

Between the ages of seven and thirteen years, poor children can be seen in the streets of Margalla Town, Rawal and Shahzad Town, collecting the waste bins door to door. They knock the doors and ask “do you have garbage?”, and they demand just Rs10 for their services.

8-year-old boy Izzat Khan who had a dirty waste collecting bag in his hand, said his family migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan and are living adjacent to Korang area in Islamabad. “We don’t have any property or house to live. My daily earning is Rs 80-100 and some houses give us their left-over food to eat,” he added.

Some of them say they don’t know where their parents came from. “We only know we live somewhere around Shahzad Town and Margalla Town, many of us have no parents, we were brought up by uncles and aunts, but we have to earn bread for ourselves and them.”

Qadeer, owner of a milk shop told that these children come here and run small errands for him. Nine year old Juma Khan comes regularly, wash the dishes, clean the shop and deliver milk to my customers and in return takes Rs 20 or 30 along with some milk.

Their grandparents migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan and settled in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar, and elsewhere in the country. The majority of them earned their living as labourers and vendors. Most of their children were born in an environment of poverty.

There are some young wandering children who look for some job as domestic servant, but they’re not regarded as honest and hard-working and are considered as ‘thieves’.

They’ve therefore only one choice to live with ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’ – and that is garbage collection. Soon after the morning prayers at the points where local residents throw all their kitchen waste, including fruits and vegetables, they are found sorting out orange peels, pieces of bread, empty plastic bottles of beverages and carton etc. Fruit skins are sold as food for domestic animals.

According to a report of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, an estimated 1.2 million children are on the streets of Pakistan’s major cities and urban centres constituting the country’s largest and one of the most ostracised and vulnerable social groups. These include ‘runaway’ children who live or work on the streets as well as the minority that return to their families at the end of the day. According to a survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 72 per cent of the working children do not have contact with their families and 10 per cent have no knowledge of their families.

To put this in perspective, the successive governments have not been able to effectively respond to the issue of children in street situations even in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). Above all there is no law in ICT for the protection of children including children in street situations and resultantly neither do the National Child Protection Centre (NCPC) have any legal status nor sufficient budgetary allocation.

NCPC Director Muhammad Yousaf Shah told Pakistan Today that we are working and facilitating the street children more than our capacity, adding that their capacity is handling only 50 to 100 children at a time.

They said that they don’t have teachers, class rooms and play grounds and the department’s seven seats including the medical posts are vacant.

Shah further told that the children were now being facilitated with the help of some NGOs, and demanded the government and concerned ministry to build a three to four acre children complex and allocate a special budget for the NCPC. He said that this was the only way we could protect the rights of street children and give them a better environment to step forward in the society.