When reading about the street children of Pakistan, their sexual abuse, the most common question one asks themselves is; why can they not escape this lifestyle?
The answer is not simple, it is an integration of the poverty life cycle, disease and societal taboo. To understand why, it is important that we first analyze the poverty life cycle and abuse of a street child.
The life cycle starts out with a child who is born in to a poor family with six children already. The poor family may move to bigger cities from rural areas in the hope of work and a better economic condition. The father takes a job in a local mechanic shop. Assuming it is a boy in this particular case, is still able to go to school because the father is earning some money and one of the elder children is helping the father. However, due to some unforeseen events, the father is injured at the workshop and needs an operation that is too expensive for them to pay for out of his salary alone. The boy, maybe aged six or seven will have to drop out of school to help the father economically by either taking a low paying job as for example selling homemade trinkets or flowers on the street, to potentially begging, or in the worst case scenario; prostitution. If the young child is abused and not killed, he is mentally unstable, may potentially get addicted to drugs and cannot lead a normal life. He may or may not be able to get a low paying job at a local chai store or as someone’s houseboy, but the chances of mental well-being are incredibly low. Some may even turn in to the predators, thieves and henceforth in the face of desperation. When the boy is of age, he may get married to a woman of equally poor economic status and have children, then once again pass down the poverty cycle.
This is roughly the narrative of many street children.
There are several factors that make it almost near impossible for street children to break out of this poverty-disease and abuse cycle, including but not limited to;
Lack of proper implementation of already existing child protection laws
Lack of family planning. Culturally, family planning is not considered in poor societies and for the poor, having many children is viewed as their ‘wealth’. As said by a mother; “Rich people have lots of money while poor people have lots of children; this is what makes us rich”
Lack of accessible healthcare, or insurance. For most families that produce street children, healthcare for preventable diseases is far too expensive and then compromises the long term health of their own children.
The inability to marry outside of one’s economic class.
Sexual abuse that eventually may lead to drug abuse in an attempt to cope.
Either parent being an addict of any substance
Societal unacceptability of children that have been abused or abused others
Even though the causes are many and the reasons for this cycle are almost impossible to manage, it can be done so mainly with external intervention. It is almost near impossible for a lone child or adult to break out of his or her class and still be fully integrated in to society. There are societal barriers, economic barriers and corruption that prevents the eradication of poverty from a generation. This is not to say that attempts are not being made, there are several NGO’s, nonprofit organizations, charities etc. that are attempting to raise money to fund orphanages where these children can live or become educated. There are people who sponsors the education or a child for only 5000 rupees a year. It is government responsibility, but due to the instability of the political system and the war on terror, poverty and the children who suffer under them have not been a priority.
Education is the only thing that can be done by the children themselves to break the cycle, but, it is unlikely that will have the opportunity to achieve that without external intervention.
One can always contribute to the ongoing fight to secure the street children in one’s everyday life in Pakistan by giving charity or funding programs to help them, sponsoring their education and speaking up about it to break the silence looming over this issue in the public sphere of Pakistani society.
Here is what they have to say in their own words:
“We used to have a happy life; all of my brothers and sisters used to go to school when our father was healthy, but since he fell ill, we have had to earn for the family. The two youngest siblings still go to school but the rest of us have to work. Maybe one day the younger ones will support us and we will not have to work on the streets”
“People who try to sexually abuse children do it mostly because they can. But the children on the streets have developed their own protective mechanisms; we look out for each other with the older ones in the groups keeping an eye on the younger ones. Once a boy from our group was kidnapped in a big white car. I noted the registration number and took the police to the address. We caught the man red-handed and the police took him away. He was a rich man and had no need to do something like this, but he did it because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. Just imagine how many children can’t get any help”.
“I want to live a long and healthy life with my family, but I know this is a just a dream. My father died because of tuberculosis when we were very young; in his last few days he often called me and told me important things. One day he told me to work hard and make lots of money because poor people die early. I have been trying to make money for many years, but finally I have realized that I will also die poor like my father because making money is a very difficult thing to do in our society”
“Our father used to drive a van, but two years ago he had an accident. He is bedridden now and cannot work. My younger brother is sick most of the time and cannot go to school. The doctors say that his body doesn’t make fresh blood. Our mother has to stay home and take care of them; that is why she lost her job as a washing lady. Now I work in a dhabba (roadside restaurant). I make around 150–200 rupees (USD 1.5–2) per day to feed my family. How can we afford treatment for my father and brother; we are lucky to have some food every day”.
“I wish I had gone to school when I could. Now I know nothing besides blowing up and selling balloons. I don’t want to do this work forever. Do you think I can go to school at this age?”
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022352/ All quotations of the mother and children were obtained from this study.