Bangladesh street children face bleak future

By Alastair Lawson, BBC News, Friday 15 February 2002, 13:21 GMT

There has been an alarming rise in the number of street children in the major cities of Bangladesh.

The increase is linked to recent figures released by the government which show that the urban population of Bangladesh continues to grow by around nine percent a year.

The plight of the street children has given domestic and international aid agencies serious cause for concern.

It is possible to smell the Demra dump on the east of Dhaka from over a mile away.

One of the biggest rubbish dumps in the city, it is a vast area the size of several football pitches.

The stench as you walk closer is so over-whelming it is hard for the uninitiated to resist vomiting.

This huge wasteland in some respects resembles the a scene after the bombs have been dropped in the movie Apocalypse Now.

It is difficult to believe that anybody can survive in such an environment.

But every morning as the sun rises a host of children walk across this vast mound of rotting rubbish scavenging for used plastic water bottles or similar rubbish.

They can sell these items for a paltry fee to a second-hand shop that operates on the outskirts of the dump.

Grinding poverty

There are least 20 children who live in the dump.

Some are orphans and some live with their parents.

They spend their days with a sack over their shoulders, ceaselessly scouring through the rubbish .

“We find all sorts of things, from old bottles and containers to cans and plastic containers,” says eight-year-old Saber.

“On a good day we can earn as much as Tk 100 (roughly two dollars) a day. “

The best way to find valuable things is to follow the mechanical digger as it unearths the rubbish.

“It can go quite deep and some of the best things are buried beneath the surface.”

The children of the dump have no visible support from the numerous aid agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that operate in Bangladesh.

But these agencies face an increasingly difficult job as the number of street children grows significantly on an annual basis.

Growing pressure

A recent report by the Arise NGO, funded jointly by the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations, says that that three out of 10 urban children live in difficult circumstances and are involved in dangerous jobs.

Reports due to be published imminently by Save the Children and the United Nations Children Fund will reach similar conclusions.

They are both expected to point out that a growing number of children in Bangladesh are being sucked into begging or prostitution.

“Street children here face a very tough situation.

“They usually come from rural areas and are cut off from their families,” says SCF spokesman Herluf Madsen,

“They live like small boats in very rough waters.

“They are exposed to all sorts of dangers—from pimps to people involved in criminal activities, and as the numbers rise we are finding it increasingly difficult to help them reach their potential.

“The situation here can only improve if the authorities here realise that children have a right to be protected,” Mr Madsen said.