Transforming Lives: A Decade of Street Children’s Journey in Pakistan

Syed Muhammad Ali Bilgrami

CEO Bilgrami & Associates International


As I write this article in April 2024, memories flood back to a pivotal moment exactly a decade ago. Nine courageous street children and myself, touched down at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Our mission? Having represent Pakistan in the Street Child World Cup held in Rio, Brazil and won the bronze[1]. As we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a sea of 4,000 charged football fans from across Pakistan[2]. The airport staff scrambled to get us outopening and closing one gate after the other, as this was the first time these street children experienced genuine affection and, most importantly, respect. No police officers snatched their meagre earnings or subjected them to beatings. No one molested or ridiculed them. For once, they were heroes, not invisible outcasts.

The 2014 Situational Analysis

Globally, street children faced complex socio-political challenges: India (11 million[3]) Egypt (1.5 million)[4] Kenya (0.3 million)[5] Philippines (0.25 million)[6] Germany (0.02 million)[7]. In Pakistan alone, an estimated 1.5 million[8] street children grappled with poverty, neglect, and violence[9]. Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar harboured most of this population. These resilient souls survived independently, away from formal social structures. Their numbers surged due to factors like domestic violence, family issues, poverty, peer pressure, and addiction[10]. The War on Terror also contributed to internal displacement, further swelling their ranks. Illiteracy, health issues, and vulnerability plagued them[11], with many falling victims to sexual assault[12] and crimes[13]. There was no policy or legislative agenda for them by the government.

The Turning Point

In 2014, everything changed after Street Child World Cup. The nine champs became Pakistan’s sensation, advocating for street children’s rights and protection. The National Assembly passed a groundbreaking resolution, providing social security and protection—a first. These children became ambassadors, coaches, and social workers, elevating football’s popularity in Pakistan. Corporates like HBL and the World Group supported their rehabilitation and reintegration through football.

Today’s Grim Reality

Fast-forward to today, and the situation is dire. Street children remain abandoned, betrayed by both the government and NGOs. The sport-for-development model lies forgotten, with no initiatives in sight. National Strategic Plans and Action Plans for Children overlook street children entirely. Despite two general censuses, no mapping or census has been conducted. Critical data gaps hinder policy development. UNICEF and INGOs have withdrawn funding, leaving these vulnerable children uncounted and unheard. Climate change now exacerbates internal displacement, and poverty persists as the primary driver. Protection centers are scarce, and government facilities fall short. Are we silently letting them go? Street youth involvement in crimes is rising. Is this society’s justice for ignoring them as children?

In this ongoing struggle, we must remember that street children remain “uncounted, unheard, and unseen.” Research is crucial to address the risk factors pushing them onto the streets (M. Ansari, 2019a). 


Pakistan faces a significant challenge with a large population of street children. To effectively address this issue, a combination of policy changes and social initiatives are needed. Conducting a national census of street children will provide crucial data for informed decision-making. Updating national action plans specifically focused on street children, along with expanding social safety nets for vulnerable families, are essential steps. Investing in education, healthcare, and regulations for safe street work activities are also key. Strengthening child protection mechanisms and reviving sports development programs like football can offer protection and opportunities. Public awareness campaigns are crucial to shift societal attitudes towards street children. Engaging the private sector through CSR initiatives and promoting community-based rehabilitation programs further strengthen the support system for these vulnerable children. By implementing these recommendations, Pakistan can work towards a future where all children are safe, protected, and have a chance to reach their full potential.


[2] The Express Tribune.

[3] Consortium for Street Children’s Civil Society Forums: South Asia, 12-14 December 2001, Colombo (with Child Hope and PEACE) and East and South East Asia, 12-14 March 2003, Bangkok. Reporting by KKSP Foundation (citing ILO figures); Aparajeyo (Bangladesh); Asha Rane (India); Save the Children UK China Programme (China); World Vision Myanmar (Burma); Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, Vietnam and partners (Vietnam).

[4] UNICEF Egypt (

[5] IRIN-KENYA: Nairobi’s Street Children: Hope for Kenya’s future generation (

[6] World Street Children News (

[7] Earth Times (,growing-number-of-street-children-in-germany-report-says.html)

[8] Asian Human Rights Commission (

[9] Identification of Key Vulnerabilities amongst street working and living girls in selected towns of Karachi conducted by Azad Foundation in 2008.

[10] Identification of Key Vulnerabilities amongst street working and living girls in selected towns of Karachi conducted by Azad Foundation in 2008.

[11] Identification of Key Vulnerabilities amongst street working and living girls in selected towns of Karachi conducted by Azad Foundation in 2008.

[12] Ibid


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