Posted by: on Mar 28, 2019 | No Comments

Since arriving in Dhaka I have had the privilege of sitting with many street children in various locations throughout the city. I have been lucky enough to befriend them, chat and laugh with them, joke and play with them, eat with them and even get cuddles from some of them.

The first thing to note is that I have not seen any girls. In previous visits there were many girls sleeping on the streets. They used to cut their hair short to look like boys to avoid molesters and perverts. Although I have been offered various explanations from the boys, I’m not convinced. I know the truth about where the girls are and why they cannot be seen.

All of the boys that I have met are from very poor backgrounds. They are children of peasants from villages or children of labourers living in city slums. One of the most common themes to our conversations is how the boys came to be on the streets. Most seem to have left home to escape beatings from a step-parent or relative. How severe this violence was is unclear.

To add context, it is common in Bengali culture to hit children. A slap on the back or slap to the back of the head is not unusual, in fact it’s the done-thing.

The people of Dhaka refer to a lot of these street children as ‘dropouts’. Whist their parents are at work as maids, labourers or drivers, the kids skip school and roam the streets. They become lured by the glamour and freedom of street life, earning their own money, free to do as they will. This together with arguments with parents or an uncomfortable life at home at the hands of their guardians causes them to run away. 

The move from a corrugated tin hut or a mud hut or a squalor in the slum to a railway platform or a bus station is not a massive change for them. Once on the streets the kids become accustomed to living without rules and become embroiled in the lower echelons of crime. They have masters (known as mash tans) who control them and it becomes difficult for them to return back home.

I spoke to a few children who tried to go back home but their parents no longer wanted them so they returned to the street. They couldn’t hack the rules of home and all the beatings. Some say they checked in to one of the local children centres run by various government agencies and NGOs throughout the city. After a few weeks or months they go back to the street, because they are mistreated or they cannot tolerate the structure and rules at the centres.

So my dilemma is this; by helping these kids once they’ve left home, are we perpetuating the problem? By showing them help, support and care, are we adding to the lure of street life? If we don’t help them, show them love, support and encourage them to return home or stay in a centre, what will happen to them?

I’m full of questions and do not know the answers. What I do know is that all these boys loved every bit of attention I gave them. They took me into their group as one of their own, cared for me, put me on the bus home, insisted I eat and drink with them and asked me to come back to spend more time with them. They seemed so grateful to have someone who wanted to know them.

For a few hours they were normal children again.

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