Street children in Bangladesh

Street children in Bangladesh The widely accepted definition of street children comes from UNICEF in Bangladesh. UNICEF defines street children as „who is of the street and on the street‟  that means who works all day in the street pass their times, eat and go back to the family at night for sleep are children on the street and those who work, pass time and sleep on street are children of the street.

Therefore children living, working and passing their times in streets with or without parents is called street children, these floating children usually eat, sleep and work on the street may live in one place and sometime move to other place. They generally sleep at footpath, railway station, bus station and in other public places at night and found in district and thana (Sub district) headquarter (Ahmed et al., 2003:3). The Bengali term of street children is “Pathshishu” and informally people used „Tokai‟ to address them, „Tokai‟ means rag pickers who use to collect waste paper, bottle, shoes and other item from road and dustbin. These floating children are also named as disadvantaged children, hard to reach children, urban working children and children at risk or in need of special protection to associate them with support and reintegration (Conticini & Hulme, 2005:4). Although any reliable surveys have not been conducted for the actual numbers of street children but it predicted to be increasing day by day (Daily Star, 2008a). Here the table shows the number of street children in main six districts and total number in Bangladesh at 2005.


Number of street children













Bangladesh (total)


Bangladesh (total projected for 2014)


Bangladesh (total projected for 2024)


Source: ‘Estimation of the Size of Street Children and their Projection for Major Urban Areas of Bangladesh 2005’ commissioned to BIDS by ARISE, Cited from UNICEF 2009

Why Child migration to street in city areas:

There are main two reasons that the children become street children. First one is the poverty and hunger as the main cause of street migration. Other reasons of child migration to street are stated as run away from home, step mother/father, earn money, no one look after them, abuse respectively At all, economic poverty remains as strong argument about child migration in city areas.

 The  second  factor  is  the  massive  unplanned  urbanization  in Bangladesh. UNICEF assessment of street children, 2012 defined street children as those boys and girls aged  under 18 for whom the street has become home and/or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised. In briefly, street girls are those girls who live, feed and work in street or sometimes work as sex worker. Of an estimated 400,000 street children in Bangladesh, about 10% have been forced into prostitution for survival. We can assume that a great proportion of these street children are street  girls. From human  rights perspectives street girls are fully excluded from enjoying declared universal human rights.

Many children live and work on the streets in urban areas. Some of them are Separated from their families and have no one to care for them, some have parents who also live on the street and some work on the street but live with their families in slum  areas. Street children are especially vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse, hazardous work, conflict with the law, and trafficking.

 They also suffer from abysmal sanitation  and hygiene  conditions,  poor health,  and  limited access  to any  kind  of education.  Street  children have  no  education  and  they  are  not  allowed  to  attend school because they wear  dirty clothes. They faced various problems such as, cold weather  in  the  winter,  wetness  during  the  rains,  sleep  deprivation,  exposure  to mosquitoes, theft while they  sleep, and sexual abuse.  Street  children in all areas  of work are victim of police abuse and are driven them.

Street children are abandoned, orphaned, or rejected by their parents and they Choose to live in the streets because of mistreatment or negligence of the general people and employers. They also work in the streets because their incomes are needed for  their  families .  The street  children  are  increasing  in  the Developing countries and world’s one billion children are suffering from deprivation of basic needs.

Living and working condition of street children:

Most of the street children survive by begging in the cities. Others involve inrag-picking and selling various goods and some were drawn into smuggling or political activities. Sometimes they are torture or harassment from the police, and they have to pay bribes to traffic police. Many girls are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by rickshaw pullers, hoodlums and the police.

About 37.50% street children are flower sellers. They buy flowers from whole sellers and sell them to the passerby and earn some for them. Furthermore, 18.8% are prostitutes, 6.25% are garments worker, 6.25% are beggars, 12.50% are shopkeepers and 6.25% are paper hawkers. One of the national daily newspaper reported on street children that, they are found in bazaars (Market Place), commercial areas, bus terminals, hotels and parks, on the pavements, around the stadium and they try to earn a living through collecting garbage, breaking bricks or pushing rickshaws, some of them work in roadside tea stalls while some are just beggars, some street children are involved in petty crime where some underworld gangs use the street children in drug peddling, snatching, toll collection and in other crimes (Daily Star, 2008a). “Fatema, who is 9 years old, works at Rampura „kacha bazaar‟ (Vegetable Market), she collects fish from the fish market and sells them to earn money. The men who work in the market treat the children shoddily and inhumanly. The child was crying and saying to me: “I went to the bazaar to collect fish apa, the shopkeeper poured ice-water (thanda borof ar pani dale dicche) on me and slapped me. I could not collect any fish. What will I eat today apa(Sister)” “Kalam does not know his identity. He cannot remember his parents, not even have any near and dear ones. He was born and grown up on a road at Hazaribag in the city. The 10 years old boy feels his mother most whenever he becomes sick. During his sickness in last month, he was crying by the name of mother on the roadside. He could not go to a hospital with his very little money or could not buy his own food or any medicine. Nobody paid attention to him. Kalam‟s mental and physical agony was culminating thinking the fate of one of his peers who died untreated after suffering from this sort of fever. He left on the roadside with high fever, chill, rigor and repeated convulsions. After 3 days, one kind passerby did notice and admitted him into the Mitford Hospital with his own money. It was also found that the street children are also habituated to professional blood donation which fuels the spread of transmissible diseases” (The Daily Star, 2008a).

Living status

Street children usually move from one place to another place for better working facilities, sleeping place and for weather. They often have to sleep on street, park, railway and bus stations, government buildings, they have to change open sleeping place due to rain and in winter time. Night guard, other guards and police made difficulties for street children in sleeping. Basically street children love to live with their street friends together as Conticini estimates social relationship with peers as main livelihood asset of street children (Conticini, 2005). The baseline survey conducted on street children at 2003 represented the living status of street children in many places of Bangladesh and the most important reasons reported by those children for moving the living place was having better working facilities while majority of children move from one place to another for better work, second major reason was identified to have better sleeping place at night and other reasons was avoid police harassments, stay with friends was reported respectively (Ahmed et al, 2003: 20, 21). The survey demonstrated that maximum street children do not use any beds or anything for sleep and some other uses cloths and jute bags for sleeping at night, they change their sleeping place from street to stations and other accessible government building during rain (Ibid:23). Bathing facilities was reported accessible and most of them bath everyday though toilet facilities are very limited and a significant number of street children use open place for toilet 80% earnings of these children are being spent on food, some reported to beg food from restaurant and even some collect food from dustbin (Ibiden). In addition 39% of street children reported to have two meals in a day followed by 3.1% have one meal in a day and 0.7% said sometimes they starve a day and most children go to bed at night without having food at least one or two nights in a week (Ibiden). More than 80% street children said they do not have any winter clothing and high proportion of them became sick in winter for not having cloth (Ibiden). While more than half of street children reported they feel sick and fever as common sickness followed by water borne disease and headache, usually no one look after them during sickness even though some reported to being looked after by friends (Ibid:21). Majority of them consul the person in the pharmacy and took medicine from him while very limited number of them even heard about organization and facilities associated for them for health care as well as for other issues (Ibid:21, 24). There is no official statistics about drug user among street children but a large number of street children spend their money on drug and when one of them is asked about reasons for using drug, he replied “addiction is very good thing and it doesn‟t harm body” while his peers agreed with it (The Daily Star, 2008b). At all street children engages in different types of works for their survival whither paid or unpaid and if paid, they spent their money both for basic needs and for other causes.


Working status:

Children in urban areas without effort of family and no supervision of law are under great threat now a days; in informal sectors employers are interested about children, due to cheapest labor and at all no bargaining power, ready to work long hours.

BBS 2003 baseline survey found that first work of majority of street children was beggar, paper picker, hawker, flower seller, garage worker, cooli (who carry goods) and helper, followed by domestic worker and agricultural worker (Ahmed et al, 2003:15). Even most of children in Dhaka city work without payment just for food and sleeping palace. In 1 st May, the daily Protom Alo done an interview session on a market place and almost all the child worker replied that they are working without payment for the same reason more The average age of these children in engagement of work is 7.81 years and 50% of them started working at the age of 8-11 years while 42% started working before 7 years old, consequently the major reason of starting work was poverty.

Than half of street children said their parents sent them for work and a significant number of street children were domestic servant before coming to street therefore it indicates that working as a domestic servant made them vulnerable which later shift them to the street.

As well as majority of children works 8-12 hours per day followed by more than 12hours and 83% of them works 7 days in a week (Ibid:18). Despite of long working hours and no off day at all, the children earn $3.50 to $4.50 per week and the earnings become better with the age (Ibiden). About 56% of street working children do not like their works and the rest like their works because of earning ability for food cost and very little like their jobs because they can help their family.They often injured in work, the nature of injury is mostly cut/wounds followed by back pain due to heavy work load and suffered for injury from less than one week to more than three months (Ibid:21). Almost every street child reported to not use any protection during works (Ibid: 22). Apart from first work as a beggar, street children are also compelled by adults to beg.

Street children as beggar

Street children are being using as street beggar in Dhaka city. So called gang leaders are compelling alone street children to beg for them by torturing and by making the children disable. An arrested gang leader had reported to the police that they injured the kidnapped children and intolerably torture the children to make disable beggar (Prothom Alo, 2010). He also reported that if they see any children walking on the street who do not have any parents or guardian, they kidnapped those children, store in a big ball and gave them very little food which made this children look like an skeleton and people use to give them money when they saw a child like this and all the money goes to the gang, they also cut hand and leg of children to make them disable (Ibid). These gang have good communication with police and after reporting, police do not arrest them, the children also been threaten about police from the gang member if they rejected to do what the gang members telling to do (Ibid). After those incidents high court of Bangladesh declared the removal of child begging from Dhaka city and asked government to show causes about why child begging by making them disable is still not stopped and had not taken any steps for this with having law (ATN news, 2011). Street children are also used as picketer in political and other general public protest.

Street children as picketer:

Recent capital market fall protest of general public in Bangladesh had been reported and broadcasted that, street children (locally called „Tokai‟) are throwing stone in the office building of capital market. Although these children do not have any relation with protest, may they don‟t know why they came to the event but they do what they told to do. Most of the time in front of police they are throwing stones, breaking things in public protests (Daily Janakantha, 2011). Besides poor living and working condition, street children had to remain under sexual and other vulnerabilities.

Street Sexual and other Vulnerability:

UNICEF reported, children living on the streets are mostly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation even if they live with their families because for poverty and lack of services parents are not in a position to provide appropriate care to their child (UNICEF, 2009: 2). These children on the street grow up without suitable accommodation, protection, education, health care, food, safe drinking water, security, supervision, recreation and guidance (Ibiden). Often these children work in hazardous and low-waged jobs to support their families for survival as well as doing work without education trapped them in a cycle of low-skilled, low-income employment which pushes them into the cycle of poverty (Ibiden). According to UNICEF these children frequently find themselves the victims of sexual abuse and risk of HIV infection, physical torture and trafficking (Ibiden). Criminal networks also engage street children in commercial sex work, smuggling, stealing and distribution of drugs and weapons which leaves no other options to many children (Ibiden). This hardship and abuse of life made the children reluctant and distrustful which later become difficult for the service provider to help them (Ibiden). Moreover, ECPAT global monitoring report on Bangladesh reported that “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) continues to be a widespread problem in Bangladesh, although there are no reliable statistics on the extent of commercial sexual exploitation of children, it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 to 29,000 victims of CSEC in Bangladesh, about 27,000 Bangladeshi women and children have been forced into prostitution in India, and around 40,000 children from Bangladesh are involved in prostitution in Pakistan. Government statistics usually bracket women and children together with no distinction by age.