Street children are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Pakistan. Street-connected children in Pakistan refer to children who live and work on the streets, lacking a stable home or family support. These children are at high risk of abuse, exploitation, and neglect.
The National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) launched its policy brief on Street-Connected Children in Pakistan: Education and Protection Challenges, in partnership with Cities for Children Pakistan in the year 2022.
The policy brief explores the situation of street-connected children in Pakistan with a child rights-based lens, reviews policies and legislations in the focus areas of education and protection, and recommends informed solutions acknowledging the unique challenges faced by children on the street.
The Commission’s policy brief touches upon two major focus areas: protection risks, including neglect, exploitation by urban gangs, physical, emotional and sexual violence, and exposure to substance abuse; and educational challenges – street-connected children are a part of the 22.8 million out-of-school-children demographic – which involves choosing between work and school, barriers to entry, and lack of accessibility and quality learning
The NCRC policy brief recommends holistic policy addressing the needs of the street-connected children, which centers on a child rights-based approach to ensure improved access to their rights, especially education and protection.
In terms of legislative reforms, there is a need to revisit the relevant federal and provincial legislations – especially decriminalizing poverty, homelessness, and deprivation of shelter. Further, the policy brief recommends addressing gaps in the child protection laws to include street-connected children, formulating rules of implementation, and harmonization of the age across the child-rights laws. But, these legislative reforms can only be implemented through a holistic governance mechanism with dedicated juvenile courts.
For increasing access to education, the policy brief recommends implementation of Article 25-A in letter and spirit by enforcing provincial compulsory education laws, expanding the reach of the social welfare net, reducing barriers to entry – age, formal identity documents, including life skills-based curriculum – and partnerships with CSOs.
To address protection risks, the policy brief recommends actionable items across the entire continuum of care ranging from first responder protocols, safeguarding policies, and capacity building of welfare workers to working with families and communities to create the conditions that will help children stay off the streets. The brief also recommends establishing ‘drop-in spaces’ for hygiene, learning, and recreation – where children can also receive adequate case management services like, counseling.
Street-connected children are a social and community concern requiring meaningful and sustainable ways of rehabilitation, assimilation and mainstreaming of these children. The policy brief spells out a comprehensive and multi-sectoral model for responding to education and protection concerns of the street-connected children.