This article is about the situation of street children in Dhakar, Bangladesh. It is written by Takbir Manjar, who works with street children, on behalf of Icare Sustainably and edited by Rianne Doller & Carolyne Nyarangi.
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““That Child today, we want a beautiful world with Mom smiling, and we want to see that smile forever. That child today, not next to the railway line and not even on the dark stairs. Let every child be human”
A song by Renaissance The pioneer band in Bangladesh. This song is an illustration of the prevailing scenario of street children in Bangladesh and how much planning and improvisation needs to be done for them. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect a global commitment to ensure the rights of children in all countries are achieved with the overall goal of meeting all necessities for the children left behind. According to UNICEF (2012) reports, more than 100 million children all over the world are living on the street and this number is increasing every day. The most marginalized children experience multiple deprivations including deprivations of their rights which often occurs on the streets – resulting in long-term effects and discrimination, based on the findings of the Consortium of Street Children (2016).
1.2: The following points will be addressed in this article
- What causes children to take to the street? This is not always because they do not have a home or family.
- How are the street children getting marginalized and what challenges do they face?
- Glue-sniffing, a major issue concerning street children in Dhaka city.
- How is the issue of street children connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
- What can be done to help the street children?
2. Background: The situation of street children in Dhaka city, Bangladesh
Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh and the most densely populated city in the world. However, street children in Dhaka city appear to be a serious social, economic, and development problem which affects public tensions in the national territory. Street children are defined as children who have no home and live on the streets. The family may have left them or they no longer have a surviving family member. Such a child must struggle to survive on the street (Aptekar & Stoecklin, 2014). Poverty, broken families, lack of parental care and unplanned urbanization are major factors for the increasing Street children in Dhaka city. According to Narayan Shama and Suresh Joshi (2013), millions of street children work and live on the street in developing countries rather than developed countries, and it’s a major problem in any developing country.
On the other hand, fascination and the enormous freedom of life on the streets offer attracts all genders of children in becoming street children. Which often lead to them working in a variety of jobs, such as ‘Tokai’ mainly garbage collectors, ‘Cooli’ means carrying others luggage, beggars, street vendors, sex workers, thieves, and day labourers. According to WHO (1994), children who move around the city to collect various used items such as paper, bottles, shoes, clothes, among others are called Tokai. Some abandoned street girls engage in casual and opportunistic paid sex work. Street children of all categories main work include searching for jobs for the day and for that, they have to maintain a good relationship with adult vangari dokandars (scavenging shopkeepers), local drug vendors, vegetable vendors, and food vendors.
3. What are the main challenges street children face?
The majority of the street children in Dhaka city do not have the basic resources to maintain healthy lives. For example, they lack the financial support to buy decent clothes and food, which is very important for their development. Due to the cost of services, most of them cannot go to school. School is free, but despite that, many children cannot afford uniforms, shoes, and books. They also live in places that are not safe for them, for example, they sleep at the bus station, market, or on the street. During the rainy season and in winter, they sleep at train stations and launch terminals. They often change sleeping places due to lurking danger and harassment by night guards or police. They also have no access to sanitation and hygiene facilities, such as toilets and a supply of clean, safe water. Hence, making them more prone to health problems due to poor hygiene.
3.1. Street children are excluded from everyday life
Another challenge the children face is when the community makes plans: it does not consider the situation of street children in Dhaka, Street children generally do not participate in most children’s activities or even access the facilities. This is another reason, besides lack of money, why street children do not have access to medical, educational, recreational, and professional resources. They face problems such as lack of vaccinations; poor health, illiteracy, and inability to acquire the skills necessary to find jobs (Heinonen, 2011).
In some places, street children may even face the possibility of physical injury or death from the violence. Common causes of violence are police, gangs, drug unions, those who run sex businesses, and other street children.
According to Heinonen (2011), society generally views street children as difficult children who cause problems. In general, society believes that street children are violent and have problems with drug use, lack morals, have lost all ability to feel emotions such as love, and turn into terrorists and revolutionaries.
4. The main challenge: Glue-sniffing and substance abuse on the streets
When talking about street children, the issue of glue-sniffing often gets mentioned in the same sentence. Google ‘street children’ and ‘glue-sniffing’ and you will find examples from many developing countries.
The issue of glue-sniffing and the broader issue of drugs addiction is also prevalent in Dhaka city where many street children are involved in the use of harmful psychoactive substances. This can lead to an overdose, increasing the risk of accidents, violence, unwanted pregnancy, and unprotected sex. Continued use of the substance can lead to complications such as brain and liver damage (Aptekar & Stoecklin, 2014).
The most popular drugs among street children are inhalants, like gum, acetone, gasoline, and paint thinner. This drug addiction is called “Dandy” and it is very much popular because it is very cheap and easy to access and using it has no legal consequences. The children of the street carry dendrites in a plastic bag and put their mouths in the plastic bag to inhale. Sometimes the children gather in groups to take turns to inhale. They also gather in public places to take the “Dandy”; especially at the bus stations, train stations, launch terminals, footpaths, and footbridges.
4.1 The leading causes of drugs abuse among street children
There is no-one watching over the street children and taking care of them, so it is easy for them to become addicted to drugs. Social bonding is a major factor in socializing among street children. Children have some sort of parental supervision when they are little, however the supervision disappears when they become teenagers. They also do not have enough facilities to entertain, play, and spend time with their parents. As a result, they gradually became addicted to drugs. Only a small number of street children can spend time with their parents among them most likely spend time with parents less than an hour a day. A small number of street children have a chance to play. Many street children go out with friends. Therefore, sometimes bad friends can also cause drug addiction in these children.
The situation is a little bit different for street girls. However, they also use drugs. Nearly 34% of street girls are involved in such activities. The causes of drug use by street girls are sexual harassment, family ignorance, contempt for society among others (Benegal V., 2009).
4.2. The issue of glue-sniffing affect a whole nation
Drug abuse directly affects the physical and socio-behavioural problems of children and affects the economic and social aspects of society in the country as a whole. The difference from Bangladesh from other developing nations is that glue-sniffing has only recently been introduced in Bangladesh. In other countries, it already started 40 years ago. Therefore, it is very important at this stage to research and find out the cause and effect of “Dandy” substance abuse among street kids to prevent further damage. According to the ICDDRB (2014) study, there are 445,000 street children in Bangladesh. Of this number, more than 300,000 street children live in the capital; most of them are drug addicts. Those are huge numbers. The consequences of their drug abuse will have consequences for the whole country if no steps are taken.
4.3. Is there a difference is drugs abuse among age groups?
Children of the younger age group between 12-15 years can earn nearly 200 BDT per day (2.6 USD). This money is used for buying one to two meals a day. The rest of the money for inhaling dandy. If they cannot earn the 200 BDT, they usually prefer to spend their money on Dandy rather than food. Dandy makes them happy, fantasize even for a while, in order to forget the harsh reality of street life.
Older street children aged 16-18 can earn more money. They use it to buy food and spend more on other addictions like smoking, Phensedyl, Pethidine, and Cannabis to have more fun and escape (Masud, Khan & Jesmin, 2018).
5. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in context of street children
How is the plight of street children linked to sustainability and the SDGs?
In June 2017, street children received recognition as rights holders under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) by the UN. To achieve the SDG’s means also to work for the street children using the central promise of the 17 SDGs: ‘leave no one behind’. To achieve the SDGs, there needs to be a proper plan for street children of Dhaka city based on Quality Education (SDG 4), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10), and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16).
Our proposal is that there should be a plan to ensure that all girls and boys receive free, fair and quality primary and secondary education by 2030 and by 2025 child labour should end. A focus on the rights of street children is important to ensure equal opportunities with all children at every stage. Also, the plan is vital to end very important issues such as abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.
Now the 4 SDGs will be discussed separately.
SDG4: Quality education for everyone
SDG 4 is: ‘By 2030, ensure that all boys and girls’ complete free, fair, and quality primary education that leads to relevant and effective learning outcomes’. Many street children do not go to school and do not attend a formal school and have dropped out of primary school. Although the overall rate of education has increased around the world in recent decades, street children are lagging as education and intervention systems are not adapted to their needs. Barriers to access and discrimination in school impede their development, limit their employment prospects and perpetuate the cycle of poverty and human rights violations. In Dhaka city.
Employment of parents of street children shows that they come from poor families who work as day labourers, small businesses (scavenging shopkeepers), and others. These families are unable to maintain a strong social bond with their children because they spend the majority of the time working. There is often no alternative form of supervision available for the children, which absence can lead to drug addiction.
Currently, only a small number of street children are literate or have finished basic primary education. Most of them who do partake in schooling study in voluntary organization’s free informal schools known as street education. Some NGOs and Voluntary groups like LEEDO, BRAC provide street education at bus and train stations. There are also some shelter houses around Dhaka city for street children run by NGOs, but these facilities get only a few street children as LEEDO has only two-shelter houses with a capacity of one hundred street children.
SDG8: Decent work and economic growth
To achieve SDGs 8, ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, there needs to be a proper action plan to abolish forced labour, end modern slavery, human trafficking, and ensure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including the recruitment and use of child labour. The goal is to terminate child labour in all shapes and forms in 2025.
The role of workers in the lives of children in street situations is complex and there are various forms of street work. Children may take on jobs in gang’s in-group criminal activities, or they may take on other dangerous jobs without external coercion due to the lack of opportunities to generate a more secure income for themselves and their families. It is very clear that a high percentage of children drop out of school to start working when a small number of them go to school and work also. Begging is dominant among young children, while paper picker and ‘Cooli’ are common occupations among older children.
SDG10: Reduced inequalities
To ensure equal opportunities and reduce income inequalities, it is very urgent to remove discriminatory laws, and implement non-discriminatory laws and policies. This to include street children and give them access to opportunities. Moreover, street children must be empowered and integrated into the social, economic, and political sectors.
Currently, many street children are unregistered citizens of the country, because they do not have official birth records. For this reason, they are unable to obtain socio-economic benefits that are put in place to help them. Laws need to be put in place to allow these street children to get documentation. This will allow them to get the same rights and opportunities of other citizens and to make use of social benefits. This will help to end the exclusion and discrimination of the street children.
SDG16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
Children on the streets are exposed to a variety of daily risks. With nowhere to eat, sleep and play, they spend their time on the streets facing all forms of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, commercial, kidnapping and rape. They are also victims of other serious threats such as beggars, child labour, and drug addiction. On the other hand, public perception of street children is dismal. When in danger, no one comes forward to help them, and therefore the children do not know whom to trust. They are afraid of getting blamed and often people do not take them seriously, if they try to file a complaint with the local police station, their complaints are not taken seriously. This causes them to stop trusting existing institutions put in place to protect them. The attitude (or even understanding of street children’s predicament) of these institutions has little depth. So more awareness of the plight of street children within those institutions is necessary, so street children have a place to have their concerns addressed.
CONCLUSION: Recommendations to help the street children
In Bangladesh, the situation of street children is dangerous and uncertain. There is plenty of evidence that street children live in extreme poverty and their numbers are increasing.
However, on a positive note, these children are ready to begin their studies if they get the opportunity. Therefore, the government and the responsible authorities should take the initiative as soon as possible to save them from drug addiction. Addicted children, who live in urban areas as street children, should receive rehabilitation assistance from NGOs involved in their care. In addition, it is very important to provide shelter for better and safer living conditions.
A possible solution should be based on the 4 SDGs mentioned. One proposal is to establish a safe house for street children. Where they can get proper education and training in technical skills such as electrical, mechanical, computer, handicraft, farming, and sustainable development. In this way, the children can get an education and training based on their mental ability and wish.will help them to develop their self-dependency and to re-integrate into society with recognition of their rights as human beings.
Specific recommendations based on the 4SDGs mentioned
- SDG4: Offer education fitting to the needs and abilities of the street children, like the safe house.
- SDG8: Stop the worst forms of child labour, human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour to protect the street children.
- SDG10: Empower street children to become active social, economic and political actors by giving them the means to through policy and laws. One example of that is to register them as citizens.
- SDG16: Increase awareness of the challenges facing street children within institutions meant to protect them (eg. police and other justice departments).
Another thing we can do is to collect data from many different countries about the challenges of street children from a local perspective. In this way, the necessity to work for these children gets amplified and more things will become possible.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela
- Consortium for Street Children. Africa Consultation Report for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment on Children in Street Situations. February – March (2016). Available at:https://www.streetchildren.org/resources/
- The United Nations Children’s Fund. (UNICEF, 2012)
- Narayan Sharma and Suresh Joshi ((2013), Preventing –substance abuse among street children in India: a literature review”. vol. 7
- World Health Organization (WHO). (1994). Lexicon Alcohol and Drugs Terms. Geneva: WHO.
- United Nations (UN) (1990), Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York, UN. Available at:http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf.
- MacDonald, Piquero, A. R., J., A. Dobrin, L.E. Daigle and F.T. Cullen. (2005), “Selfcontrol, violent offending, and homicide victimization: Assessing the general theory of crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology”, 21(1), 55−70.
- Inadequate health systems leave street children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh (2014), ICDDRB.
- J. H. B. Masud, M. M. Khan & Jesmin (2018), Pattern of Drug Abuse among Street Children of Dhaka: Inhalants are the Most Popular Drug. Delta Med Col J. Jan 2018; 6 (1)
- Benegal V. (2009), “Alcohol and Injuries: India. In Alcohol and Injuries: Emergency Department Studies in an International Perspective”, Eds. Cheryl Cherpitel & Norman Giesbrecht, World Health Organization, Geneva.
- UN General Assembly (2015), Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September. Available at https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/generalassembly/docs/globalcompact/A_RES_70_1_E.pdf
- L. Aptekar &n D. Stoecklin (2014), Street children and homeless youth a cross-culture perspective. Springer, New York.
- P. Heinonen (2011), Youth Gangs and Street Children: Culture, Nurture and Masculinity in Ethiopia. Berghahn Books, New York.
- Street Children LEEDO. Website link: https://leedobd.org/
Thank you Takbir for gives this interesting overview of the situation of street children in Dhaka, city.
What do you think would be the first step to implement your recommendations?
Thanks for your commentary Rianne Doller.
Starting a dialogue with municipalities and districts of cities could be a good first step to establish more shelters and to fund them.
The article is really thought-provoking and informative on the situation that children in Dhaka are going through. The challenges mentioned are really well framed and have multiplier effects, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thank you for the feedback Pandey. The pandemic has certainly made the situation even harder for the street children
Substance abuse among street children is prevalent in many developing countries. Like what the author said, the use of drugs is a manifestation of many issues such as homelessness, lack of parental support, and physical abuse. In other countries, many children are displaced or forced to live on the streets too due to man-made and natural disasters. Unfortunately, while efforts have been made by some governmental / social welfare bureaus to house them in shelters, this intervention has been insufficient as many return to the streets after staying for a few days or months. Of course there are success stories too. Kudos for bringing this narrative back in the spotlight. More is needed to protect them from further risk of falling deeper into a life of abuse, poverty and crime.
Thank you for your insight Isobel.
Great article. Are 18+ population living in streets registered as citizens?
Thanks! Not all of them are unfortunately, which makes it challenging for them to build towards a future.
Thank you Manjar for this informative article. The real crisis of the street children are shown in this article and proper steps should be taken. We should know their sufferings and try to understand the situation rather than ignoring them. The challenges mentioned could be really effective.
Thank you Thasin Sirat. We think too that knowledge of the issues is the first step to finding a sollition.