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The tales of urban street children: is there anything we could do?

  • Published at 04:43 pm December 10th, 2019
street children
They shouldn’t be working Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

About 28 percent of the population in Bangladesh consists of children and more than 1.6 million of the city’s children are living on the streets.

“Sometimes I felt so tired of each day, I wished it was over. But it just went on and on, like the silent prayers that forever go unanswered,” said Runa while describing her childhood in the swampy thatched house of a slum in Dhaka city; at the session “Story of Urban Street Children in Dhaka City” in the Fourth Annual National Conference on Urban Resilience, held from October 22-24, 2019 at Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB), Dhaka. 

There are thousands of stories similar to this. As people living in the urban area are from different strata of the society, and they have different income levels, this shapes their way of lives differently. About 28 percent of the population in Bangladesh consists of children and more than 1.6 million of the city’s children are living on the streets. They are often deprived of basic human rights, or their basic identity of having a birth certificate, securities and prone to other numerous vulnerabilities. They often ply their jobs at the city’s traffic-choked intersections, selling flowers, hawking cigarettes or chips or begging for money. Regardless of all these, they grow up with their own resilience efforts and sketch their dreams. The session at the urban conference thus designed to listen to those stories of struggle and identify strategies to support this children group in achieving those wishes.

Runa Laila, an urban street child grew-up in the hustle-bustle and marshy slums of Rayerbazar – shared her stories of struggles and never-ending persuasion for education. She is currently enrolled in the eleventh grade at college. However, Runa migrated with her family from Netrokona to Dhaka city in their dire need of earning. “We moved to this “Jadur-Sohor” (City of Magic) with our numerous hopes, strangled with nothing and leaving everything behind”. The sudden change of life from a green village to a mundane slum has stricken her immensely. As an adult girl, she became victim of various social constraints, like: eve teasing. She urged,” It is saddening that people living in the surrounding keep quiet regarding the social problems”. It encouraged her to be a journalist in future and stand against these social dilemmas. She believes that, “Being born as a poor is the fate but dying as a poor is not acceptable”. From that spirit, she has continued her studies from APON foundation which works with the underprivileged children with a view to alleviating poverty and eliminating all forms of social discrimination. She is extremely thankful for not getting married at the early age like other village girls, and expressed her eagerness for continuing her education saying that “Even studying at the floor mat, I enjoyed my education as my school teachers were very helpful and kind.”

These street children had more or less similar stories of their struggles and emotions. Some of them grew up without their parents, some of them choose their path without any guidance, some of them are doing their daily struggle with jobs, and many of them are having countless nights sleeping on the roadside. In this quest, they sometimes miss a few meals and living with an empty stomach. However, all these children like every other citizen of the country is having or consuming anything paying property tax to government but these unprivileged group is not receiving any benefit, whereas they need to be provided with basic and better education so that they can take the lead to create a better world. But because of the loopholes exist in this society, children are still staying at streets, or doing odd jobs, where they should be having an enjoyable life and gaining education.

Interventions need to ensure the long-term sustainability of projects over some finite period. It is important to conduct research on exploring the vulnerabilities of these children in relation to climate change and other social issues. One of the major solutions would be investing in children; especially for educating young girls and provide them market demanding skills training to help them to be an entrepreneur. Being a climate vulnerable nation, Bangladesh will face the climate change impacts within next 30-60 years.  Therefore, to be prepared beforehand, these children need to gain proper knowledge and training today to be able to claim as climate champions in future. As we are graduating towards the middle-income country status from being the least developed country, no particular group should be left behind in the development process. Hence, national policies need to be strengthened to reduce the risks of child labor and ensure safe working environment for all. A proper institution and provision of complaints mechanism should also be developed to help these children. Planning for a jamboree with the street children on climate change topic could be a first step to raise awareness on the needs of individuals to be resilient tomorrow.  

Tasfia Tasnim works at ICCCAD. By degree, she is a planner. Her working majors are climate finance, livelihood resilience and natural resource management connected to socio-cultural dynamics.

Farah Anzum is currently working as a Junior Research Associate at ICCCAD. Her work involvement mainly includes climate change and gender and climate finance.

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