KARACHI -- Pakistan has a rough estimate of 1.2 million children on the street, a figure which is at least more than 10 years old. And since there has not been any recent census, in all probability their numbers may have increased.
Even four months into the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan has been unable to decide what is the best way to control the spread of the virus. From the beginning, the government has struggled with implementation of basic standard operating procedures (SOPs) and how to get people to follow them. Quarantine has been a big issue as has lockdown. Markets have been closed down and then opened and then partially closed down.
In such a situation street children and child beggars stand no chance of getting any help. They continue to live and sleep on the streets or in katchi abadis around the country - exposed to all kinds of predators, dangers and disease, and now the coronavirus.
Their parents don't have the time or resources to protect their children. As Ashraf Feroz Khan, the managing director of Street Children Pakistan, said, 'Unfortunately, no one cares about street children. Parents rather see their children work and contribute to the family, than study. One mother told me that her son earns more while working as a mechanic's apprentice.'
He said that the parents of the children are not bothered by the virus. 'I asked an old man who was going to work during the lockdown why he was out, and why did he have his young son with him. The man said, 'I would rather die of a virus than of hunger.' This is the reality we see in Pakistan.'
Mr Khan said that he could understand what these people faced; they were fighting for survival. They were not going to let a virus stop them. They wanted to send their children to work so that the family didn't starve.
Unfortunately, with no clear government policy covering them these children not only expose themselves, but are also a danger to others as they may not have symptoms but they may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
With no health facilities available to street children in normal times, the situation is worse in a pandemic.
And it doesn't help that it was commonly believed that the virus didn't affect children and young people. Maybe this led to the government forming a force comprising of young people to help it in its war against coronavirus.
However, according to a report by Harvard Medical School, 'Children, including very young children, can...