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Effective initiatives needed to rehabilitate street children

WT24 Desk

The age of the child is not more than three.He was sleeping on the footpath under the open sky adjacent to Petrobangla office in the capital’s Karwan Bazar at night. But he has no cloth to keep him covered to save himself from mosquito bites. However, there was a gunnysack under his back instead of a quilt, BSS reports.

No guardian of him was found after a long wait. Nearby people informed, his mother collects leftover vegetables from Karwan Bazar at night and sells those at daytime. The child, who hails from the river erosion-affected district of Bhola, has no father as his father abandoned his mother with him (child) after getting married for the second time.

Not only this child, many children like him are now growing up on different footpaths in Bangladesh, particularly in the capital, without any care-attention. Many of them don’t have father-mother and home. The children grooming on the footpaths are called “pathakoli”, “tokai” or street urchin.

According to the UNDP, the children who have no family, all along with the family live in street, go back home at night or live in the streets or take shelter to the house of others are called street children. A survey was conducted on the street children under the “Appropriate Resources for Improving Street Children’s Environment (ARISCE)” project of the Department of Social Welfare in 2005.

According to that survey, there were 6,79,728 street children in Bangladesh. The highest 2, 49, 200 street children were in Dhaka, 55,856 in Chittagong and 9,771 in Barisal. The survey said that 75 percent street children live in the capital, 9.9 percent in Chittagong and 2.5 percent in Sylhet. Of the street children, 53 percent were males while 47 percent females. According to the experts, there are 11,44,754 street children at present in the country. And the figure of street children will be stood at 16,15,330 in 2024.

Almost 85 percent of these children are growing up in a dirty environment.They are suffering from malnutrition along with different diseases. Their lifestyle is very unendurable and they pass night on footpaths, in parks, at rail or bus stations, launch terminals, on veranda of government buildings. They eat rotten food, even fetid-food of dustbins. For survival, they get involved in theft, snatching, drug selling and even the female children are engaged in prostitution.

These ill-fated children sometimes get involved in the acts of “political sabotage” for money. According to the information of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), about 25 percent of those children are involved in drug trafficking.  Different projects are being implemented at the government-private levels for the rehabilitation of the street children. Even, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has strongly ordered the ministries concerned for rehabilitation of the children.

While addressing the opening ceremony of the World Children’s Day and Child Rights Week on October 11 last year, the Premier said: “There won’t be a single child without shelter….they won’t live in an inhuman situation. If we are able to provide food for 16 crore people, we would be able to feed these children.”

The Ministry of Social Welfare has been implementing two projects for rehabilitation of the underprivileged children through the Department of Social Welfare. As part of the continuation of Protection of Children at Risks (PCAR), the Department of Social Welfare has been executing the “Child Sensitive Social Protection in Bangladesh (CSSPB)” project with the financial and technical support of the UNICEF.

The scheme was launched in January, 2012 and its tenure will end in December, 2016. Under the projects, programmes are being implemented to stop repression on women-children, negligence, exploitation and their trafficking in the country’s 20 districts.

According to sources concerned of the Ministry of Social Welfare, six drop-in centres, four emergency night shelters, 20 child-friendly spaces and five open air schools are being run in Dhaka, Chittagong and Barisal under this project. A total of 14,884 children were given protection in the drop-in centres and 758 children were handed over to their families up to February last year.

Required services were provided to 5,229 children in emergency night shelters, 4578 in child-friendly spaces and 23,616 in open air schools.  A total of 4,275 children were given financial assistance under this project. Street children who take support from these shelters, spaces and schools need to follow some conditions as they have to ensure regular presence in schools. They are given protection against marriage at adolescent stage and child labor. Each selected child will be given a total of Taka 36,000 in 18 months (Tk 2000 monthly).

Another project which is being implemented under the Department of Social Welfare is Child Protection Network. Child Protection Network committee has been formed in 20 districts and some selected upazilas headed by Deputy Commissioner and Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO). Social workers have been given training under this project to increase their knowledge and efficiency in child related activities.

A non-government development organization, Aparajeo Bangladesh, has been working with the government on this issue. The government is going to take up rehabilitation programmes for street children soon. The government is also framing a plan in consultation with the representatives of non-government development organizations.

As per the plan, open schools for the street children will be set up, while technical training will be imparted to them in shelter homes. Assistance will be provided to that children who have families. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and the Ministry of Social Welfare have started working with such different programmes.

Amina Khatun, assistant director of Aparajeo Bangladesh, said a survey has been conducted on street children in Dhaka’s Karwan Bazar and Kamalapur as per the new plan. She said Aparajeo Bangladesh has been running 12 shelter homes for street children under Child Sensitive Social Project. “We have been implementing the project with the financial assistance of the Unicef and the cooperation of the Ministry of Social Welfare,” she said.

About the rise in the number of street children, Amina Khatun said river erosion, poverty, separation of parents, disparity, non-availability of jobs are the main reasons for it. She said there is sufficient support from the government’s side. But the assistance does not reach to “hardcore poor” in many cases. It is also creating disparity. For this reason, creation of social awareness about the government-private initiatives is needed.

There are initiatives for rehabilitation of the street children. But, she thinks, those are not enough for rehabilitation of 11 lakh street urchins.She said “more initiatives” will have to be taken up through proper planning for the rehabilitation of the street children.

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