“I used to be scared of people because of how they treated us”
Children living and working on the street need our empathy and support
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Hasib does not know his exact age. He guesses that he should be 12 now, and that he first came to Dhaka from his village in southwestern Bangladesh when he was just 7. He does not remember much of his childhood, but he remembers how sad and angry he felt when he had to leave his home, in search of a better life.
His father had left the family, and after a while, Hasib and his mother were no longer welcome at his uncle’s house.
“When I first came to Dhaka with my mother, we lived at the bus stand. Sometimes we slept in underpasses. I was sad at how horrible people were to us. They threw water at us when we tried to sleep. They called us hurtful names,” says Hasib.
Forced to fend for the family
Hasib lived on the streets with his mother Hasina for several years. With the arrival of his baby sister Mim, his responsibilities grew. At times, the family was able to rent a place to stay in the slums. “But they always threw us out when we couldn't pay the rent,” Hasib explains.
Hasib now sells books and chocolate to travellers passing through the bus terminal. He makes 150 to 200 taka (about $2) per day, and that is how he continues to provide for his mother and younger sister.
A sanctuary for children who have nowhere else to go
“While we do not know the exact number of children in street situations in Bangladesh, every child who spends the majority of their time, day or night, on the street is one child too many,” says Natalie McCauley, Chief of Child Protection with UNICEF Bangladesh. “These children lack the most basic amenities life: a bed to sleep in and a door to close for safety and comfort.”
UNICEF operates three Child Protection Service Hubs in Dhaka in partnership with the Bangladesh Department of Social Services. At the hubs, social workers reach out to children in street situations who spend their waking and sleeping hours in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and who suffer neglect, abuse and violence daily. The social workers strive to reunite children with their families, to enrol them in school, and minimize the risks they face on the streets. At the same time, the children get free meals, a place to rest, counselling, and an opportunity to play and learn with other children.
Back to school and a place to stay
The pressure of providing for his mother and sister sometimes became too much for Hasib. When he first came to the hub, Makhsuda – a social worker at the hub – counselled him and his mother, and Hasib gradually became less distressed. When Hasib visited and sometimes stayed nights at the hub, Makhsuda kept in close contact with his mother.
Makhsuda helped Hasib’s mother obtain a birth certificate and a job in the terminal. Although Hasib’s mother no longer has the job, she was able to rent a room in a nearby slum. And through Makhsuda’s efforts, Hasib was admitted this year to a school for vulnerable children in the area.
“I go to school five days a week now, from 3 to 5. They teach us everything. I come to the hub and practice afterwards as well,” says Hasib proudly.
Although Hasib still has to work to support the family, his situation has improved a great deal. When he gets the time and can spare a little money, he goes to the local computer shop to listen to songs, which he then likes to perform with his friends.
Social workers making a difference
Hasib’s story shows how a skilled and motivated social worker can change the course of a child’s life. However, there are only 181 child protection social workers in Bangladesh – a country of 170 million people. UNICEF supports social workers to help children to a life away from the streets. At the same time, UNICEF works together with the Government of Bangladesh to build a stronger social service workforce. The vision is a social service worker in every village to protect children from harm and to prevent children from ending up on the streets in in the first place.
“I used to be scared of people because of how they treated us on the streets,” says Hasib.
Since those first terrifying years on the streets of Dhaka, Hasib has come a long way. He is back in school, he lights up when he sings with his friends, and he dares to dream again.
“I want to finish school, and I have this hope of building a house for my mother one day.”