Housing in Pakistan and Why Children Live on the Streets

A Pakistani girl comforts her brother near her family's makeshift tent in a slum in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Slums, which are built on illegal lands, have neither running water or sewage disposal. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Housing has become a huge problem all throughout Pakistan, and that is due to many issues such as increased rate of population growth, high inflation, a lack of initiative by the Pakistani government to develop low-income housing, and an overall unfair land administrative system. According to Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper based out of Karachi, there is currently a housing shortage all throughout Pakistan of over 9 million housing units. Due to little housing one-third of Pakistan’s population make their homes in slums, which are called katchi abadis in Urdu (Natiq). These slums are technically built on illegal lands, and have inadequate water and sewage systems. There is a huge Christian and Afghan refugee population in the katchi abadis.

The system itself for obtaining land/property is very one-sided and unstructured, and seems to be in favor of the upper class.  A lot of the State’s subsidized land was obtained at cheap rates by commercial enterprises who represented professional groups, such as Defense Housing Authorities (which is an organization that provides housing for current/retired military personnel). These enterprises would flip the developed land for double the price and pocket the gains (Haider). This reselling of developed land occurs with low-income housing units as well, turning the affordable-housing into not-so-affordable housing.

And now, not only is there little to no structure in place for low-income/subsidized housing units, but the slums that are home to millions of people are being taken away. It is a lose-lose situation. Just this past year a government group, the Capital Development Authority (CDA), decided to launch operation Zarb-e-Ghareeb, which bulldozed the katchi abadis of Islamabad without giving the people any notice. The CDA and the privileged people of Islamabad felt that these homes were eyesores. The CDA stated, “They look like ugly villages, whereas Islamabad was considered as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.” (Barnabas Fund)

… And a lot of the people living in these slums work for the CDA and the upper class of Islamabad! They are the guards, the maids, the cooks, the cobblers, the plumbers, the vegetable vendors…etc. etc. etc. !

The reality is that the population has grown so much that the CDA wants more space for development, and due to their lack of hearts and morals they’ve made more space at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people. They don’t want to accept that there is a problem within their community, so for them it is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude.

Pakistan-bulldozes-Islamabad-slums-katchi-abadisChildren watching as their homes are bulldozed to the ground by the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

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Homeless children dwell on the streets of the big cities of Pakistan. Other than the fact that sometimes their homes are literally taken away from them, as discussed above, there are other reasons as to why they live on the streets. Some of these children are abandoned by their parents, or are orphans whose parents died because of illness or war. There is also a large problem where families move to the cities from rural areas in hopes for job opportunities, and typically there are not enough jobs, as well as not enough housing. Their children end up being exploited by the parents to make a living on the streets. According to a scholarly article in Social Science and Medicine most of the children are working between 8 and 12 hours everyday with an average income of 40 to 60 rupees per day (one US dollar = 60 rupees) (Ali). Some end up choosing to runaway from home.  Also, children can become peer pressured into street life and form drug addictions, which I will discuss in another blog post.

Many times children are abused at home and runaway to the cities to live among other children. In an online article a 12-year-old boy named Zia-ul-Haq recounts his reasons for living on the streets. He says, “my family wanted me to earn money. When I didn’t they beat me so I left” (IRIN). A Pakistani NGO, called the Azad Foundation, along with UNICEF, found that in the city of Karachi, 54.1% of street children left their homes between ages 10 and 12 years old. (Aslam) When the children of Karachi were asked why they left home the UNICEF report shows the reasons as:

  • poverty (26.4%),
  • peers/friends influence (19.7%)
  • violence (17.3%).
  • the behavior of the parents (12.7%)
  •  drug addiction (9.7%)

Of course, children find ways to get by living this lifestyle. Unfortunately many children make their way by begging, pick-pocketing, and also soliciting themselves for sex. However, many find work by shoe shining, cleaning cars, collecting waste paper, and selling water, newspapers and other goods in small hotels. I’ve always felt that children have great resilience and perseverance. I feel that many children still have the capacity to grow and adapt under harsh conditions, and feel that this quote by Judith Rodin represents that idea: “resilience is not only about responding to shock and stress but also about learning and continuing to adapt and grow because of the experience.”



Haider, Murtaza. “Here’s How to House the Poor in Pakistan…” Dawn. N.p., 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Natiq, Ale. “Zarb-e-Ghareeb: Pakistan’s Crackdown on Islamabad Slums.” Www.roshnipak.com. N.p., 30 July 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

“Pakistan Capital Wants to Bulldoze “ugly” Christian Slums “to Protect the Beauty of Islam”.” Barnabas Fund. Barnabas Aid, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Rehman, I.A. “No Right to Housing.” Dawn. N.p., 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

“Number of Street Children on the Rise.” IRIN News. IRIN, 5 May 2005. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.           

Aman, Aslam. EVALUATION OF SOCIAL REINTEGRATION OF STREET CHILDREN PROJECT. Rep. Islamabad: UH&H Consulting (Pvt.), 2012. UNICEF. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.                      

Ali, Moazzam. “Street Children in Pakistan: A Situational Analysis of Social Conditions and Nutritional Status” Social Science and Medicine. Vol 59. Issue 8. (2004): 1707-1717.

Rodin, Judith . The Resilience Dividend. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

4 thoughts on “Housing in Pakistan and Why Children Live on the Streets”

  1. I know there are levels to the issue and that the mafia also exploits the street children by forcing them into begging and stealing. Are there possible solutions to the issue and what is the government doing to help?

  2. The statement, “most of the children are working between 8 and 12 hours everyday with an average income of 40 to 60 rupees per day”, was very shocking. The children who run away from the abuse don’t have housing, jobs, and also education.What can we do for them? I look forward to reading more of your blog posts !

  3. Wow! I am pretty surprised that boys are mistreated as well! Usually it is the girls who are mistreated and are sold to the streets to make a “living.” This was a great post and I am looking forward to your next topic- peer pressure!

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