The sight of children begging and sleeping on the streets in the capital has, unfortunately, become so common that it has ceased to arouse our collective conscience anymore. Drug peddling and addiction and involvement in crimes among street children are serious issues that are yet to be addressed. It is a paradoxical reality that hundreds of thousands of street children in the country—with an overwhelming majority in Dhaka—fight to survive every day by begging, pickpocketing or selling drugs at a time when our aspirations of becoming a developing country have taken centre stage in the national discourse.
The number of children living on the streets in different cities across the country is estimated to be in the millions. These children whose misery is fuelled by abject poverty and lack of social protection simply have nowhere to go. Much like many problems, the issue of vulnerability of street children and their basic rights remaining unfulfilled is also rooted in the lack of implementation of existing policies. National Children Policy 2011 clearly states that “(a) nutrition, (b) health, (c) overall protection, (d) education and (e) social security of the child shall be given priority for the poverty alleviation of the children.”
If such well-intended policies were rigorously implemented, the fate of countless children in the country who have ended up on the streets would have been far different. Although there are some NGOs and shelter homes for these children, they are not nearly enough to rehabilitate even a miniscule percentage of them. As we observe Universal Children's Day today, we urge the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to do much more to ensure that the basic needs of street children—shelter, education and healthcare—are met.