Blockade forces street children into begging

Blockade forces street children into begging
Mahbuba Zannat

Street children, who collect recyclable goods from the streets to make a living, were forced into begging as the streets were the arena for political violence over the past weeks.

Due to increased police vigilance over the opposition blockade programme, these homeless children were also subjected to police abuse and repression.

"Whenever I go out to collect bhangari (recyclable goods) with a sack on my back the police beat me up suspecting that there are cocktails or other explosives in the sack," said Rana, a 12-year-old boy who has left home to live with other street children at Paltan in the city.

"As I cannot go out for work I use to beg money from people and sometime beg food from shop owners and hotel workers," he said.

This was not only the tale of Rana but also the tale of thousands of other under privileged children whose hand to mouth existence was threatened due to political agitation.

The blockade made these underprivileged children more vulnerable than others, said Mushtak Hossain of Incidin Bangladesh, a child rights organisation.

There are around 6.74 lakh street children in the country and 58 percent of them are living in Dhaka.

During the blockade the street children were also used for political purposes, said an official of government’s Appropriate Resources for Improving Street Children Environment Project.

"Hartal and blockade create negative pressure on the income of the street children. Besides, we have seen the street children with written slogans in their chests and backs which is a violation of International Child Rights Convention," said Amena Khatun, programme coordinator of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, adding that they would inform the policy makers of the matter.

They were used to join procession, rally and other programmes and sometimes they were given money for joining such political programmes.

" I received Tk 25 after joining a political procession on the last day of the blockade and I had a great meal on that day," said Kabir with a smile on his face questioning what is the problem if I join a procession and get some money?

Situation for the girls was more acute than boys.

"I have heard that police arrest the street children suspecting their involvement in political activities and take them to police stations. So I am passing my days wandering in the park and since the last two days I could not sell my chocolates to anyone," said Ripa, a 13-year-old street child.

Few shelter homes in the city are quite inadequate to help around 3,50,000 street children.

"But during the odd days the number of street children was almost doubled. They came to shelter homes to get free food as many of them had no work," said Aminul Islam of Aparajeyo Bangladesh.

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