In the context of a developing country, the term Street Children has been used quite extensively but often with a broad and general connotation. The term can represent any child spending a part of their daily life on the streets without the basic rights stated in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).
During a workshop of my photographic school, I started working on a project on the street children of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, with an intention of gaining a better understanding of their lives. This overwhelmingly congested city hosts more than 75% of all the street children across the country, at the current rate the number of which is estimated to accelerate to an alarming figure of 930,000 by the end of 2014. Such children can be found in every public space like the parks, market places, mosques, etc. Most of these kids have migrated to Dhaka from different parts of the country with their parents or relatives only to find themselves living in the slums or in makeshift shelters under hazardous conditions. They have to engage in any kind of livelihood activities to help their families and their lives are an everyday struggle.
As my work progressed with time, I soon became aware of the multiple complex, and somewhat intricate, layers of stratification that exist beyond this simple, sometimes derogatory, terminology. As Dhaka’s public squares are populated with street children, they are one of the most physically noticeable groups. However, there is a particular group of children without any roots who are extremely difficult to trace that I felt exceptionally drawn to. These almost invisible kids are on their own, on the move, independent, wild and yet the most isolated. Unlike the previous group, they do not have a family or a shelter to return to at the end of the day and spend their nights in crowded railway stations, launch/boat terminals or bus stations. Some of these children have run away from home, often in response to psychological, physical or sexual abuse; whereas some have consciously and willingly made the decision of severing any forms of contact with remaining family members. They choose to lead a free and adventurous life despite being aware of all the dangers the street might offer to a destitute child. Without any care or much thought, they roam around from one place to another, not knowing what is going to happen next or when and how the next meal will be found. It is not uncommon for these children to hop on a train or bus and end up in an unknown place just to get rid of boredom. These children are marginalized and demonized by mainstream society and are perceived to be associated with criminal behavior. Deprived of any affection or education, they often fall in the hands of gangsters, drug dealing, political hooliganism and even prostitution.
Although some international and local NGOs are working with street children to provide vital services, these serve only those kids that have a somewhat stationary address. These invisible children, because of their constantly moving nature, have not been targeted so far and concerned organizations need to figure out the a practical way of delivering education, health care and protection services to these children without taking away their sense of identity.