KARACHI - Like many children in his age, Shahid, a young Pakistani from the southern city of Karachi, dreamed of attending a school and leading a peaceful life with his family.
But his dream has turned into a nightmare, leaving him sit in a medium-size hall in a juvenile jail.
The nutshell of my story is that I have been here for last six months, and waiting for my fate, Shahid, 14, told OnIslam.net.
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Being repeatedly beaten by his unemployed father, Shahid had left his home in Lyari, a shanty town in the south of Karachi and notorious for drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
One day, I left home, and slept on a footpath at Burns road (a famous food street and unofficial headquarters of street children in Karachi) where I met some other children who had run away from their homes from different parts of the country, he said.
One of them used to work as a helper at a motor mechanic shop. He took me there and I started working with him.
But the young Pakistani quickly got fed up with the job due to poor salary and harsh treatment of the workshop owner.
I used to work on a (motor) workshop as a helper but at the end of the day, I would receive just RS 50 (0.6 dollars).
Shahid's life got a twist when he met Jehangir, a senior street child who had been selling hashish-filled cigarettes in the area.
Shahid took no time to join him.
It was my biggest mistake. Initially it looked attractive because of easy money because we did not have to do much, he told OnIslam.net.
Shahid would pick cigarettes from a point in Lyari area, and roam around Burns road where his clients, who later become familiar to him, buy hashish-filled cigarettes.
Later, he started selling packets of heroin and raw hashish on the demand of his clients.
I tried to leave this bad profession a couple of times, but I could not because my masters would not let me do that, said Shahid, who was threatened by the area drug dealers of dire consequences if he left the job.
One day, Shahid was caught red handed by the police while engaging in negotiating with a client and was put into jail.
Shahid is one of thousands of street children who are being used by criminal gangs for drug trafficking across Pakistan.
Hussein, 15, left his family's home in the northeastern city of Lahore two years ago.
Arriving in Karachi, he started working in a hotel, but was kicked out by the owner for a minor mistake.
I used to sleep on a footpath near railway station, where I met some other boys who too had run away from their home. Most of them were drug users, Hussein told OnIslam.net.
Soon after, Hussein started using Hashish-filled cigarettes and is now selling all kinds of drugs in the area.
It's been one and half years, I have been selling drugs, and earning my commission of sales, he said.
During this period, neither I have tried to contact my family, nor have they tried to locate me.
Hussein either did not know much about the gang that he is working for, or he did not want to tell when asked.
I don't know, and I never bothered. Motor bikers come, hand over the packets of heroin, hashish and other drugs, and I sell them. Very simple, he said, shrugging his shoulders.
There are no official statistics about the number of street children in Pakistan.
However NGOs, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), believe that there are 1.3 million street children across in the south Asian Muslim country.
Out of these 1.3 million, 72 percent children do not have contact with their families, and 10 percent have no knowledge of their families.
Most of these children beg and scavenge around rubbish dumps or industrial waste sites or take on menial jobs as cart pushers or dish washers, working 12-15 hours a day to earn around 75 rupees enough to buy a meal.
Most survive by prostituting themselves, stealing or smuggling, making them vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Jaundice and liver or kidney disorders.
NGO workers say that street children are also being used for begging by organized baggers mafia.
Child rental for begging is an increasing phenomenon among poor households, Mohammad Naveed, a social worker who has been associated with Azad Foundation, an NGO working for street children, told OnIslam.net.
Parents rent their children out to an individual or group and both parties share the child's earnings, added Naveed, who is often seen around Burns road where many street children personally know him.
A visit to Burns road by OnIslam correspondent along with Naveed, suggested that a number of children begging there were rented out by their parents.
Many of them later become drug peddlers.
This inhumane treatment drives children to drugs and into the arms of criminal gangs who promise protection, food and a better life, Naveed said.
Social workers believe that the use of children for drug trafficking has become an organized crime in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi.
These children are properly trained for organized drug gangs before sending them in the field, Asif Saud, a Karachi-based analyst who deals with anti-drugs government and non-governmental campaigns, told OnIslam.net.
Use of street children for drug trafficking not only saves the actual faces behind this heinous crime from law-enforcing agencies, but also distracts their rival groups.
The analyst says that most of those children are picked by drug gangs as they either have run away from their homes or do not know about their families.
These children are tortured, threatened and sometimes handed over to police if they refuse to bow to these gangs, he said.
Saud opines that the small makeshift towns established by nomads in Karachi have turned out to be safe havens for street children where they learn tactics ranging from pick-pocketing to drug trafficking.Most of the children who run away from their homes, reach in any of these makeshift towns, and fall prey to organized criminal gangs.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net