If you are stuck for a few minutes at a traffic signal in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, you will probably see children rushing up to the windows of your vehicle. Some of these children carry flowers; some have a stack of books in the crook of their arms, some carry bundles of newspapers and some have candy for sale. They try their best to earn sympathy from commuters to sell their goods. This painful scene is ubiquitous on the streets of Dhaka. These street children are known as Pothoshishu. The street is where they earn their living.
The total number of street children in Bangladesh is estimated at 400,000. Almost half of these children live in Dhaka city alone. A very large percentage of these children are young girls. These female street children are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
On March, 2012 Unnayan Onneshan published a report titled “social connection of the street girls in the context of Dhaka city, Bangladesh” [pdf]. The research shows that the majority of the street girls (37.50%) sell flowers for a living. 18.80% of these young girls are forced into prostitution, 6.25 % work in the clothing industry, 6.25% become beggars, 12.50% start as shopkeepers and 6.25% are paper-hawkers. Almost half of these girls have a measly daily income of Tk. 101-299 ($1.25-$3.75). The daily income of 43.75 % of the girls is Tk. 300 (US$3.75) and above. But they seem to be the lucky ones, because 6.25 % of the street girls earn less than Tk. 100 ($1.25) per day. Almost 45% of these girls do not receive any treatment from government medical facilities or clinics. 3 out of 10 of these girls have never been enrolled in any type of educational institution.
Most women in Bangladesh are vulnerable to fall victim to abuse such as rape, murder, eve teasing, dowry and acid attacks. But the street children who spend their childhood under the open skies of Dhaka face such risks on a daily basis. This graph is taken from the above report, which shows statistics of violences inflicted upon street girls:
Neelkabyo writes this about the helpless situation of the street girls at Addar Asor forum:
Where it is hard to guarantee the safety of our daughters inside our own homes, the thought of the 25.7% of female children who live on the streets is truly terrifying.
Nizam Kutubee writes in the Prothom Alo Blog:
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about sexual abuse laws. But no one is giving any serious thought on the issue of the safety of street girls. They constantly suffer sexual abuse because they have to spend their nights on the street completely unprotected. But no one in the authority seems to have any concerns about them.
Blogger Maa cited the lyrics of a renowned Bangla song to draw attention to this issue and to request a safe home for these children:
Let a new sun shine across these green pastures, let this world be a safe haven
Let this world be safe for children, is it too much I ask for?…