Promoting Child Rights

Photo: SK Enamul Haq

Packed on pavement

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Akram Hosen

Along with hundreds of children who are being born and raised on the pavement along TNT Colony in Fakirapool, eight-year-old Monir and his little sister Fatima uses the open drains in the area for toilets.
Apparently, none of the children of more than 100 families living on the pavement are familiar with the concept of a sanitary latrine, let alone a decent toilet or a bathroom.

Photo: SK Enamul Haq

Monir smiled when asked if he feels embarrassment while using an open space for toilet. “I will use the toilets in Fakirapool when I grow up,” he retorted.
Monir was referring to a public toilet near Fakirapool intersection that his parents use.
The structures in which the children, their parents and sometimes grandparents live can hardly be called shanties. The “house” where Monir lives is actually a structure of polythene sheets supported by bamboo sticks. One end of the sheet is tied to the wall of TNT colony and the other end is attached to the pavement.
The height of these structures is so low that not even an average ten-years-old can stand straight inside them.
These abodes with no facilities of water, sanitation, or electricity pose a sharp contrast to the super market on the opposite side of the road. It looks as if the inhabitants of the pavements are living in a different century.
Rekha, a thirteen-years-old girl of the area is a student of class 3 in a government primary school. She is aware that she is a little too tall and over aged compared to her classmates. “But I don’t care much about studying anyway, because I have to help my mother with the household chores and I will be working in a rich household as a domestic help pretty soon,” she said.
Lines of buses can be seen parked along the pavement on any given day. “The bus drivers and their helpers leer at our girls and eye them all the time. But what choice have we got?” said an elderly woman who lives there with her children and grand children.
Monir’s mother Sofia has been living in the area for 15 years. Her landless peasant family migrated to the city from Barisal because of poverty and indebtedness. Her husband is a rickshaw puller.
“I know that our children do not have any hope of ever living a better life. I even wonder if they will make healthy grown ups,” she said.
Like Sofia, most of the people living on the pavement had migrated to the city because they were dispossessed by river erosion and other natural disasters. Indebtedness, lack of work and sheer poverty also drove them to Dhaka. After losing every hope of survival in the villages they migrated to the city.
In turn, the city, like a giant outsourcing business, needs a virtually unlimited supply of cheap and unskilled labour. The stream of poor, homeless people into the city fulfils that demand. They are the reason why rickshaw pullers, chauffeurs, construction workers, kulis (porters), security guards, domestic helps and garment workers are always at hand, waiting to be hired. The urban middle class needs them.
Sofia informed that her children become particularly vulnerable when mobile court magistrates with policemen break down the structures they call their home. “We become absolutely helpless in those times. But we come back after several days and build the homes again.”
In the Kafkaesque world they live in, the prospects for a better life for the poor children eludes them.

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