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Literacy among street children


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that there are 150 million children classifiable under the category of street children, across the world. For Pakistan, this is approximately 1.2-1.5 million (for children under 16 years) in major urban areas of Pakistan (SPARC 2015). Street children generally become convenient victims of various issues, such as a lack of livelihood, healthcare and education. This is largely due to the fact that these children have not yet reached adulthood. Often, these children do not receive adequate protection and supervision by adults. Therefore, in order to prevent them from being abused or falling into a cycle of crime, these children receive special attention of the society.

This vulnerable segment of society can be defined as:

“Any girl or boy, who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street (in the broadest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become her or his habitual abode and/or sources of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults” (UNICEF, Inter-NGO, 1985)

Common causes of the street child issue include poverty, physical violence at home, carelessness of parents and others. (Azad Foundation 2005, SPARC 2012).

Education Profile of Street Children

Azad Foundation (2005) reports that a large proportion, i.e. 72 % of street children, are illiterate in Pakistan. Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) 2012 helps narrow down data even further; it reports low literacy levels among street children in 7 major cities of the country, including Karachi, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Peshawar, Quetta and Multan.

SPARC is cognizant of both categories of street children in their survey: children working on the streets and children living on the streets, in their survey. Children living on streets have very limited contact with families; they usually live and work on the streets; whereas children working on the streets return home after working during the day.

According to a SPARC survey conducted in 2012, a startlingly low number of street children in Pakistan is enrolled in schools. Overall, only 9.4 % children working on streets and 12.9 % living on the streets are enrolled students. More than half of the surveyed population has never been to school. Bearing in mind the vulnerability of these children to abuse and exploitation, this figure indicates how limited opportunities are for street children to have a dignified life.

Figure 1: Education Profile of Street Children









Source: Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC)-2012

Figures also indicate that it is difficult for street children to receive an education and to continue it; 38% street children working were reported to have attended school in the past. However,  only 9% could continue their education for an extended period.  There are multiple reasons which may compel a street child to discontinue his/her education. Financial constraints were the leading cause for high dropout rates among street children dropout rates. A staggering 64% working street children, and 78% children living on the streets, reported that economic issues were the main barrier to the continuation of their education. Other reasons included the high opportunity cost of an education, unfavourable school environment, prevalence of corporal punishment, violent behaviour of peers and the availability of madrassahs (see their percentage distribution in figure below).

Figure 2: Reasons for School Leaving among Street Children

Source: Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC)-2012

Unfortunately, more than 60 % of the children surveyed by SPARC were not interested in returning to school.


Provision of Education to Street Children

Provision of free and compulsory education to all children, is the responsibility of the government and a fundamental right accorded to citizens by the state. . According to the Article 25-A:

The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.

The government has been attempting to facilitate street children through child protection bureaus and social welfare departments. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are also working to provide shelter and education to these children. Some of them include SPARC, Society for Empowering Human Resource (SEHER), etc. These organizations have Drop-in Centres (DICs) in different cities, which provide healthcare, informal education, skills to earn and psychological support to street children, free of cost.

Each DIC has one teacher to provide non-formal education to street children who wish to acquire it, and assist those interested in receiving formal education. DICs have linkages with national and provincial education departments for such purposes. Vocational trainings are also conducted to equip street children with skills and training to earn a livelihood. Psychologists are also available at many DICs, to provide counselling to street children, which can guide them in most matters and help convert their positive energies into practical and useful actions.


Rabia Tabassum | November Fri 11 2016| 0 Comments

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