Insecurity of food, increase of violence and fear of being detained by the police force a large number of the street children to leave Dhaka on the hartal days.
Some non-government organisations provide food aid to the street children on the hartal days but their coverage is too inadequate to feed them. So the street children prefer going outside Dhaka in search of work and food on these days.
Interviews with the street children and the experts in the NGOs which are working for the street children reveal that on the hartal days, many street children go outside Dhaka by train and launch as they can travel free on these modes of transport.
Selim, a 10-year-old boy who works at the Karwan Bazar kitchen market told Star City, ‘It is hard to earn or manage food on the hartal day as no truck arrives on the day and we do not have any work.’ For a meal on the hartal day, the street children at Kawran Bazar compete for the rotten vegetables and other stuff, Selim said.
For the risk of losing money to others, Selim does not save money for the hard days like hartal and blockades. ‘Usually I spend all my money as soon as I earn because keeping money in pocket is very risky when I am in sleep,’ he said.
‘On the evening before the latest hartal, I left Dhaka by train with my friends and we enjoyed lot of fun on the roof of the train,’ he added.
He said he had travelled to Sylhet on the last hartal day as he did several times on the hartal days in the past, sometimes with group and sometimes alone.
Saira, 13, a sex worker at Kamlapur Railway Station, said the hartal days are harsher than normal days. ‘The customers often refuse to pay money on these days. They capitalise thin crowed on the streets on hartal days,’ she said.
‘It is also hard to get customer on the hartal days as people do not get out from home.’
Arrest is another concern for the street children on the hartal days, said Jahangir, a street child who got a job at Chinnamul Shishu Kishor Sangstha last month.
He said that police and the activists of the political parties usually become violent on hartal days and the roads become very risky for street children.
Police often catch children from the troubled spots and detain them for long, Saddam, a 14-year-old boy, told Star City at Stadium Market. He said that on the hartal days, party people often hire them for throwing stones at the police. But he did not join them even for a single day in fear of arrest and baton-charge by the police.
Aminul Islam of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, an NGO, said they provide free food for the street children on the hartal days. Street children always feel insecure and the streets on the hartal days become more unsecured for them, he said.
Aminul said the NGOs working on the street children usually provide shelter to the urchins at their drop-in centres according to their capability. The number of children taking shelter in these centres doubles on the hartal days.
A monitoring officer of the Chinnamul Shishu Kishor Sangstha told Star City that most of the NGOs working on the street children provide food to the street children but a large portion of the children remain out of their coverage. These NGOs can help hardly 15 per cent of the street children on the hartal days, he said.
The NGOs are increasing their capacity to provide aid to the street children while the number of the children is also growing rapidly, he added. "Its hard to match aiding capability with the growth rate of the street children."