Causes and Impact of Street Children

Contributing Factors for Street Children

There are multiple reasons and contributing factors behind the prevalence of street children in Pakistan, including but not limited to:

Poverty and Inequality

Poverty in Pakistan is pervasive, with a 22% portion of the population living below the poverty line. Economic disparities are stark, with limited access to resources and opportunities for many families, particularly those in rural areas and urban slums. Poverty deprives children of access to adequate nutrition, healthcare, and education, forcing them onto the streets in search of food, shelter, and income-generating activities. Moreover, the lack of social safety nets and support systems exacerbates the vulnerability of impoverished families, leaving children at greater risk of exploitation and neglect.

Limited Access to Education

Despite efforts to improve education in Pakistan through constitutional amendment Article 25A and compulsory educational laws, barriers such as inadequate infrastructure, teacher shortages, and socio-cultural norms hinder access to quality education, especially for marginalized communities. Many street children come from families unable to afford school related expenses, uniforms, and supplies, while others face discrimination or cultural barriers that prevent them from attending school. As a result, these children miss out on the opportunity for academic and personal development, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and marginalization.

Family Dynamics

Broken families, often resulting from factors such as parental separation, divorce, or the loss of caregivers, leave children without stable homes or support structures. In some cases, however, families may intentionally choose street life as a means of survival, especially in urban centers where whole families engage in activities such as begging or selling goods on the streets. Economic hardships and lack of viable employment opportunities can lead families to view street-based livelihoods as their only option for earning income. As a result, children are born into or brought up within this environment, with little choice but to adapt to the circumstances they are born into. In cases of abuse or neglect within such families, children may feel compelled to flee their homes in search of safety, finding themselves on the streets as a means of escape. Additionally, the death of parents due to illness, accidents, or violence can leave children orphaned and vulnerable, with limited options for care and protection. The breakdown of family units robs children of the nurturing environments essential for their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, pushing them towards the harsh realities of street life.

Urbanization and Migration

Rapid urbanization in Pakistan has led to the proliferation of informal settlements and urban slums, where living conditions are often precarious and resources are scarce. Rural-to-urban migration, driven by economic opportunities and environmental pressures, places strain on urban infrastructure and services, leading to overcrowding and resource competition. Displacement due to conflict, natural disasters, or economic hardships further exacerbates the challenges faced by vulnerable populations, including children. Displaced families may lack social support networks in urban areas, increasing the likelihood of children ending up on the streets as they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings and circumstances.

Impact of Street-life on Children

The impact of street life on children is profound and complex, encompassing physical, psychological, social and economic dimensions.

Physical Health Risks

Street children are exposed to numerous health hazards, including malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and exposure to extreme weather conditions. Their living conditions often lack basic hygiene, making them vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin conditions. Lack of healthcare exacerbates these health risks, leading to untreated illnesses and chronic health issues.

Psychological Trauma

Living on the streets exposes children to traumatic experiences such as violence, abuse, and exploitation. Constant exposure to danger and uncertainty takes a toll on their mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children can develop coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or self-harm to deal with their trauma, further exacerbating their mental health issues.

Educational Deprivation

Street children often lack access to formal education, depriving them of opportunities for intellectual and personal development. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills, their prospects for escaping poverty and achieving a better future are severely limited. Moreover, stigma and discrimination against street children in educational institutions further marginalize them and reinforce their sense of hopelessness.

Exploitation and Abuse

Street children are highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by adults, including human traffickers, criminal gangs, and predatory individuals. They may be forced into child labor, commercial sexual exploitation, or involvement in criminal activities such as drug trafficking or theft. Lacking protection from caregivers or authorities, they become easy targets for exploitation, with little recourse for justice or support.

Social Exclusion

Street children are often stigmatized and marginalized by society, viewed as social nuisances or delinquents rather than victims of systemic neglect and poverty. Discrimination and ostracism further isolate them from mainstream society, perpetuating cycles of poverty and exclusion. Without social support networks or positive role models, street children struggle to develop healthy relationships and a sense of belonging.

Loss of Childhood

Street life robs children of their childhoods, forcing them to assume adult responsibilities and fend for themselves from a young age. Instead of playing, learning, and exploring their interests, they are preoccupied with survival and basic needs. This premature transition to adulthood deprives them of essential experiences and opportunities for growth, perpetuating cycles of poverty and marginalization.

Cycle of Poverty

Perhaps most significantly, street life perpetuates the cycle of poverty, trapping children and their families in intergenerational cycles of deprivation and marginalization. Without access to education, healthcare, or stable employment, street children struggle to break free from the cycle of poverty and build a better future for themselves and their families. As a result, they remain trapped in a cycle of despair, with little hope for escape or improvement.


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