Around 60 percent of more than four lakh street children in Dhaka are leading a vulnerable life as they are compelled to indulge in anti-social activities, according to studies conducted by a number of government and non-government agencies.
Drug traffickers use these children as carrier while political parties hire them for demonstrations, rallies and processions. They are often maltreated, physically abused and forced to take part in dangerous activities.
Labelled as tokai or kangali, these underprivileged children wander around the city streets, parks, bus terminals, kitchen markets and railway stations. Some of them work as porters and some as helpers of bus and tempo drivers.
However, the street children say they prefer begging, the easiest way to earn. This correspondent talked to 30 floating children, 22 of them said begging is the best option. The rest eight explained why selling candies, books or flowers are better choices.
Seven-year-old Rasul at Gulshan-1 intersection said: “Whole day income from begging can be as high as Tk 300. But you cannot make more than Tk 25 profit by selling 50 pieces of candy a day.” So he thinks begging is better option.
Faruk is an orphan. When he was a baby, other beggars used to hire him from his guardians to earn more by begging. “I have become a beggar as people around me told me that begging is the easiest means of earning,” Faruk said.
Amzad of Karwan Bazar has a different story. He sells newspapers as his poor parents cannot afford to send him to school. “I need to make contribution to my family.”
He earns Tk 120 by selling 60 newspapers a day. “Although the amount is small, it is more prestigious than begging,” Amzad said.
Akbar, who also sells newspapers, said: “I used to beg before. But it was a bad experience for me. People sitting in their cars used to get very angry as I begged. Once a man slapped me and asked me to work, not to beg.
“What I am doing does not fetch enough money but still it is better,” he said.
The government and non-government studies pointed out several categories of these floating children. Some of them just wander around the streets and some spend time doing various jobs and selling small things. They return home at night if they have a family, or spend the night on the streets.
The other categories include children who return to temporary shelters. And there are parentless children, who live 24 hours a day in the streets. These children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, crime and anti-social activities.
Most NGO activists say the city residents have a civic responsibility towards these street children and they should help them. One easy way of helping these kids is to buy candies or books from them to encourage them.
The basic reasons for these children to come down to the streets were pointed out in a study “Appropriate Resources for Improving Children’s Environment (ARISE),” a collaborative initiative of the Department of Social Services under the Ministry of Social Welfare and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The reasons are extreme poverty in the rural area, consequences of broken families, strains of living as a child of single parent, family breakdown due to polygamy, neglect and cruelty by stepmother and violence or exploitation at home.
The above factors force the children to run away from home and come to the cities if they lived in rural areas. Escaping from the harshness of life, these children lead an ‘independent’ life begging or wandering in the streets. A very few of them want to work.
Kakoli Chakravarty, community mobilisation and awareness raising specialist of ARISE, said the constraints these children face in their everyday life include hunger, no accommodation, no attention from family, unhealthy living environment and unemployment.
Many of these children indulge in anti-social activities. They are trained by the drug traffickers and criminals who use them. They learn slang such as body taan (stealing watch), money taan (moneybag snatching), round (pistol) and chalk (knife).
A number of NGOs are working to rehabilitate these destitute children. These include Aparajeyo Bangladesh, Population Services and Training Centre (PSTC), Padakkhep Manabik Unnayan Kendra, Samaj Paribartan Kendra (SPK) and Shoishab Bangladesh.
Wahida Banu, a director of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, said they help the street children, especially who are harassed and picked up by the police from the streets on minor charges.
“When we get the news of such arrests, our field workers rush to the spot. Then we try to get them released with the help of our lawyers. We bring them to our shelter and give them food, education, clothing and mental support,” she added.
Founder Director of SPK advocate Eleza Rahi said they are also providing shelter, legal aid and job placement help for the destitute children. SPK has a number of drop-in centres (DIC), a shelter for the street children who are separated from their parents and families.
Faizul Khan Tanim is currently employed as the Head of PR Communications for all the Concerns of Windmill Ltd.: * Windmill Advertising Ltd * Color Marker Ltd - Printing * Windmill Infotech Ltd - IT * Coral Blue Resort, St Martins * Grass Root Communications - Activation * Moo's Barn, Road 11, Banani - Restaurant * One Call Solution Ltd - Call Centre * Windmill Education Services Ltd He also served as Head of Media in a Canadian entrepreneurship and business development organization and the company has a major Afforestation project with which Tanim was involved. He also works as a Translator in BBC World Service Trust. In his career, he served as a Senior Staff Writer In-Charge at the Daily New Age of Environment and Contemporary Music sections (Friday's magazine). He thinks ''As a global citizen, it is my duty to protect and serve the environment because if i do not keep my surrounding healthy, we can never expect a positive return from the elements around us. Joining this group will give me a global perspective when climate change, renewable energy, poverty are issues of HEAVY INTEREST".