There are an estimated 70,000 children on the streets of Pakistan. ‘Madadgar helpline’ reports approximately 15,000 of them between the ages of seven and fifteen that roam the alleys of Karachi alone. Research conducted by private NGOs indicates that 66% of them belong to Korangi, PIB colony, Machar colony, etc.
They are either runaways from large and poor families or homeless and abandoned children. Sooner or later, these children fall prey to child labour, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. Ultimately, they get forced into crime.
Some run away from home because of ill treatment and forced labour at the hands of their own destitute parents, who cannot afford to raise them otherwise. Despite missing their siblings, these orphans prefer to join gangs rather than return home.
According to reports by Meera Jamal of ‘Dawn’, they are robbed by policemen, and sold into sexual slavery for as low as Rs. 50 a day. These children sniff glue and petrol as the cheapest means to forget their miseries. Their only self defense is carrying a razor blade that most of the time is not enough against the older and stronger. Joining a gang provides maximum protection. However, they are still subject to abuse by the gang leader, whose orders they must comply with.
Edhi Foundation confirms that though Sindh Child Act and a number of other laws declare the government responsible for the safety and protection of all children, there is no official support network in place to rehabilitate them. When such kids are brought to them, most of them choose to return to the streets. Their innocence has been abused to such an extent that they begin to enjoy their freedom. Also, their life of crime offers them much more than a frugal children’s shelter ever could. American writer Zig Ziglar commented: “Kids go where there is excitement; they stay where there is love.”
The question then arises – what can be done? These children are as much a part of our future Ummah as our own kids. Many times we instruct our own children: “Child, don’t play outside the house – it’s dangerous.” The thought of leaving our kids on the city streets to roam on their own day and night is enough to send shivers down the spine.
We must not forget that our beloved Messenger (sa) was an orphan, too. The ignorant Arabs of that era had a much stronger sense of fraternity than we have today, in spite of our modern education and economic means. Prophet Muhammad (sa) was lovingly taken in to his uncle’s home and raised as one of his own children. Today, it seems not to be even an option – a child with a relative is as vulnerable as the one on the streets. Therefore, these kids dangerously opt to be left to their own devices.
There is no simple solution to this challenge. Until big plans are put in place, we can all chip in individually. Several Quranic verses and authentic prophetic traditions encourage sponsorship of orphans. Start from home. Look around within your extended family, if a child needs to be supported for education and other needs. Don’t be judgmental or arrogant, when offering support, so as not to hurt their self-esteem. Just offer any assistance with an open heart and a pure Niyah (intention).
Encourage institutes and individuals that are running rehabilitation centres. Don’t just fund them, but visit them with your family and spend time with these children regularly.
Help your servants and employees manage their children’s basic needs. Arrange meaningful Quranic education and vocational training for them, so they can morally and economically uplift their families.
On the streets, try to encourage children who sell stuff to earn a respectable life. We can also give a far more protected and respectable environment to a poor child by employing him for one of the lighter tasks at home. Proper time can be allocated for his education and upbringing.
It will take personal and consistent interest on our part to bring a meaningful change in the lives of one of these kids. But if we can save one innocent life, it can be Sadqa-e-jaariya for us. May be we are the hope these children are looking for. Let’s give it to them with love and kindness.