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Byline: Haroon-ur-Rashid Rana

ABSTRACT: The paper presents research findings regarding Street Children in Pirwadhai, Rawalpindi, in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. This study explains the psychological issues in terms of Discrimination, Prejudice, Inferiority Complex, Anxiety, Depression, and Social Deviance, which they encounter through out their life. This study depicts, inter-alia, street children's life in terms of psychological issues and disorders with which children are brought up and continue to experience it in the street. This street culture changes the attitude and behaviors of the children, thefts, lying, cheating, pick pocketing, drug addiction and other evil practices were found very common among the street children. Different gangs and mafias were following them up on different stages to use them for their own vested interests such as for drugs pedaling and sexual business etc.

Keywords: Street Children, Discrimination, Street Life, Depression, Anxiety, Social Deviance, Social Setup, Disorders


A study was carried out in order to understand the socio-psychological issues, causes and consequences of the street children. Growing trend of street children in Pakistan highlights the significance of the study. At present there are 1.2 million street children in Pakistan due to poverty, family feuds, divorced families or orphan etc; which cause various psychological disorders among street children. The research was carried out in the area of Pirwadhai, Rawalpindi which has enough capacity to accept street children to live work and survive. This area is well-known bus stand, which was established in 1976. More than thousand buses run from the bus stand across the country every day and thousands of people arrive here.

Research Methodology:

Both qualitative and quantitative anthropological research techniques such as participant observation, interviews, questionnaire, and focus group discussions were used to collect primary data. The field work for this study was conducted for couple of months and snow ball sampling technique was employed and targeted eighty four (84) street children. Children ranging from ages nine to eighteen years were selected for the study.

Problem Faced by the Researcher

It took much time to gain confidence of community and establishing good rapport with the people concerned. My friend helped me to introduce me with local people and removing misconception of the people about my research. The biggest issue of the area was mistrusting one another and researcher had to face this problem too in Pirwadhai. Street children remained scared of the researcher even after removing all the misconception. Children belonging to 11 to 12 years of age were about 20% whereas 14 to 15 years of age were 32%. It exhibited the trend of ages under which children reach the street (chart-1). About 21% children were found in the street due to parent's casualness. Their basic needs were not fulfilled at their homes such as 17% disclosed that they failed to provide them required food. About 26% left their homes due to physical and emotional abuse from parent, siblings and other relatives. About 23% disclosed that initially they entered to the street for need of money (chart 1).

Psychological Issues of Street Children

Interaction between an individual and culture creates some behavior form, which leads individuals to develop relationship with other humans under the prevailing and given circumstances. If an individual's behavior complies with the prescribed social norms and values, he is called obedient and normal member of the society. On the contrary, if the individual's behavior does not comply with those sets of social norms and values, they are called as deviant and abnormal member of the society. Due to such obedient and deviant behaviors, and through the nature of interaction or socialization, individuals come across various socio-psychological and physical behavior patterns.

A culture and personality study is called Psychological Anthropology that determines the nature of the interaction between the individual and his culture. It applies the methods of Psychology to the field of Anthropology in an effort to analyze the differing behavior patterns of individuals who live in the same culture. [1]

The situations that threw children to the streets, and the experience they went through there, left impact on their development, growth, and well-being. Also it deprived them from social, emotional, economic, and moral support from the other members of society. The theme of this research was to identify and not blame the elements responsible for depriving these children and providing them such circumstances that forced them to find refuge in streets. Also, the study was made to focus on the aftermath of such deprivation on the behavior of street children, which is not only harmful for them but also harms norms and values of the society. . It becomes more appealing when we study culture and personality as an integral part of culture rather than in isolation. Culture cannot be studied without the study of individuals and groups who are interacting in it and practicing its norms, which eventually influence their behaviors in many ways.

It is this interesting blend of culture in Anthropology, in Sociology as a macro concept and in Psychology as an individual construct that makes understanding culture difficult but fascinating. [2] In the same way street children belonging to different segments of society and culture got together and formed new culture according to their immediate basic motives i.e. needs to survive in an alien environment, find protection, shelter and food and thus, it became street culture. This culture had very long lasting impacts on the street children ranging from normal to abnormal behavior, culminating in collectivism to individualism and vice versa. Probably the best known dimension of cultural variability is individualism-collectivism (IC). Anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists alike have used this dimension to explain differences between cultures. [3-6]

It was revealed that as a defense mechanism they had formed a group for their protection and pledged to fight for the other members of the group in case any member of their group was attacked by anyone outside the group. On the other hand they behaved selfishly especially at the time of sharing food and shelter with others. They were prone to switching their behaviors in-group and out-group set ups. Defense and support mechanisms had been devised through enculturation, diffusion and acculturation to protect themselves from external factors. IC refers to the degree to which a culture encourages, fosters, and facilitates the needs, wishes, desires, and values of an autonomous and unique self over those of a group. In individualistic cultures, personal needs and goals take precedence over the needs of others; in a collectivistic culture, individual needs are sacrificed to satisfy the group. [7]

Culture develops a mechanism to protect their members, saves individual common interests and every member had to play his given role according to set norms and values. Cultural institutions are developed to make the activities smoother and acceptable to all.

Culture and personality go hand in hand, therefore, these individuals developed groups of vested interests for their survival and build their own sub-groups if required. These groups had some cultural traits, values and norms that helped in personality development within a certain sub-culture. The theory of Culture and Personality explained relationships between childrearing customs and human behaviors in different societies. There were two main themes in this theoretical school. One was about the relationship between culture and human nature. The other was about the correlation between culture and individual personality. [8] Behavior development is part of one's personality and it changes due to the environmental exposure from time to time and event to event. The family problem, limited access to education and lack of shelter moulds the personality of street children in such a way that with the passage of time they tend to take independent decisions.

The street children were termed as 'street personality'; because the perception of society was altogether predominantly negative and in some cases sympathetic regarding street children though all of them were not deviants. This negative perception kept them at a distance from the mainstream of the society, made them feel isolated, inferior and depressed. Antagonistically, they developed a hateful attitude towards the people and got involved in criminal or unwanted activities. By doing so, they not only harmed themselves but the whole society by taking revenge.

Mulder (1976) and later Hofstede (1980) used the dimension of Power Distance (PD), the degree of inequality in power between a less powerful individual (I) and more powerful Other (O). Hofstede (1980) also proposed Uncertainty avoidance (UA), the degree to which culture develop institutions and rituals to deal with the anxiety created by uncertainty and ambiguity. [9-10]

Public and private institutes had started to deal with the issues of discrimination, anxiety and inequality among the members of the society but research showed that these institutes were misused by the powerful to retain their influence. For example, the institute of police was established for the safety of the common people but most of people including street children in the Pirwadhai feared the police and its atrocities. They were hesitant to go to police stations to register their genuine complaints or lodge first investigation reports (FIR). This was because of perception about the police in this society and amongst the street children that the entire police set up was corrupt and was involved in various illicit activities including child abuse. People thought it better to bear the losses like theft and forget instead of reporting to the police which meant more trouble for a long time. Very few policemen were found to be helpful.

Those in the higher echelons of power normally used the police for protocol duties, vested interests and to suppress the opponents who were considered a threat to their power and influence. The individuals as well as street children were harassed and victimized by the law enforcing agencies.

Boas' cultural relativism and Freud's psychoanalysis on early childhood provided enough support to this theory of Culture and Personality. Freud was of the opinion that the differences between people in various societies are usually derived from cultural differences inducted in childhood according to their unique cultural traits. Culture and Personality school of thought described distinctive characteristics of people in certain cultures and attributed these unique traits to the different methods of childrearing. The purpose was to find the correlation between childrearing practices and human behaviors as adult personality types. In spite of their negative image in society, the street children had the 'street-developed potential' to respond to all their deprivation and neglect in a very positive way by enjoying their lives, making fun out of it, behaving independently and indicating their potential in a better way occasionally than those who were dependent on their parents.

So this was the social group which survived in the state of frustration, adding to poverty and was a cause of stress to their parents. Street children's strength should not be undermined or underestimated as they had the potential to return to the mainstream any time with new vigor and energy. They impersonate the street personality of 'Guru/Ustad' which means a master who had the courage to tackle with difficult situations like street fight or facing a hostile group and respond to these challenges with boldness without fearing about the outcome in an environment that was full of uncertainties. For instance, once a Guru was arrested in brawl case, for injuring his opponent severly with Danda (wooden baton). He had no feeling of remorse or any fear of punishment; he rather felt proud at his act and behaved like a hero who had done something outstanding. He was released on bail by the court but his case was under hearing.

He proudly boasted before others 'Thana-kachery to mard ki shan hein, in say kia ghabrana' (Police stations and courts are man's honor, why he should be afraid of them).

The unprotected street children were equally afraid of their uncertain future like any other protected child but they were confident to deal with this fear on their own without any external assistance whereas protected children had a lot of parental, moral, economic, and political support. Street children's behaviors were different as some of them were fearful, depressed, others were arrogant, bold, and clever, also amongst them some were deceitful, and shy too; nevertheless they knew how to make best use of their inbuilt latent traits of their personalities to turn the prevailing negative situation into positive ones. The people around them were of the opinion that they were unpredictable so those who had any contact with them always remained extra cautious, careful and vigilant while dealing with street children. It was a general belief that the street children don't have any sense of morality. They were hungry for money, and gradually learned its value.

They firmly believed that money could bring respect and status in society. They wanted to become rich overnight by all means except for those who were still in touch with their families, and supported them to some extent. That was how they developed their behaviors by interacting with children belonging to various socio-economic and ethnic groups present on the street. This interaction led them to explore the secrets of material success, to earn and behave like normal and healthy individuals of society, and law abiding and obedient members of the society.

Margaret Mead is known for the approach called Culture and Personality. This approach answers the fundamental question in cultural anthropology of, "why are we the way we are?" By explaining the relationship between childrearing customs and human behaviors, she saw an individual as a product of culture that shapes the person in unique manners. These cultural traits are learned by the individual as an infant, and they are reinterpreted and reinforced as the individual goes through its stages of life. In short, the differences between people in different societies have usually cultural differences imparted in childhood. This interaction between individual and culture is dynamic and a complex process by which humans learns to be humans. [11]

There are some biological or genetic inbuilt traits of human developments which one receives at the time of birth and others are the product of culture that develop with the passage of time through the different stages of life from infancy to adulthood. The society erected some barriers, in the name of cultural values, norms, ethics and traditions, against the unwanted wishes or desires of the individuals. Such cultural barriers produce deviant behavior not only among the unprotected or unsupervised but also among protected or supervised children. In such cases, culture itself was considered a hurdle therefore instead of being inspired from it they took it as a burden. But there was no denial after studying these street children that culture shaped their individual behaviors and made it obligatory for them to follow certain package of rules that helped to make the environment in which they lived secure and stable.

And where they ruled out the cultural norms it created insecure and unstable environment for them.

The members of the society learn cultural traits throughout their lives, at all developmental stages, and these are reinterpreted and reinforced as one moves ahead and interacts with other individuals, groups and cultures. Through this interaction humans enhance their mental faculties but the same culture abandons its own children and compels them to adopt street culture. In this situation, who would be blamed or held responsible for the deviant or aggressive behavior of the street children. If every culture is claimed as noble, demands respect by other cultures, and saves human from ethnocentric guilt then why the street culture is called deviant culture. As a matter of fact street culture protects the abandoned children or those neglected by the society. The street culture taught street children how to survive, where to get protection, how to gang up, and where to get food and shelter. If all these efforts are appreciable then why does one blame or label it as deviant?

In fact both nature and nurture play a significant role in personality development of street children. The circumstances and available resources decide the destination of individuals and shape their behavior, make them proud or depressed, obedient or deviant.

Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) explained that in Samoa, "adolescence was not a stressful period because in general Samoan society lacked stress," where as it was just opposite in United States. But, in 1983 Derek Freeman published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The making and unmasking of an anthropological myth, where he was of the opinion that Mead had distorted the facts; according to him Samoan society was full of stress and competition. This indicates that perception about the same culture could be different or there might be some transformation due to global changes, impact of electronic and print media, exposure to other cultures etc. as Mead was of the opinion that interaction between individual and culture was dynamic and a complex process. Dynamism suggested us those changes by the said means of communication.

The culture and socialization were playing vital role in the behaviors of street children in making them either obedient or deviant members of the society. Most people of the area called street children deviant and threat to the peace of the society and other sympathied them and called them Haalat key sataye huwey (victims of circumstances). There is no doubt that they were open to danger and went to any extent for their safety and survival, which was unacceptable to the society. Different gangs and mafias were following them up on different stages to use them for their own vested interests such as for drugs pedaling and sexual business, torturing them both mentally and physically. The children who had gone through such traumas could not be expected to be obedient all the time. They could react as a deviant at any time with anger and hate syndrome against exploiters in particular and against society in general.

Discrimination against Children

Street Children were discriminated in the society in various ways and forms as people never felt shy to give them unfair rather disgusting treatment. This segment of the society had been isolated from the mainstream and was treated like outsiders.

Discrimination is an action-unfair treatment directed against someone, when the basis of discrimination is race, it is known as racism, but discrimination can be based on many characteristics other than race-including age, sex, height, weight, income, education, marital status, sexual orientation, disease, disability, religion and politics. [12]

Street children were discriminated based on the said characteristics in Pirwadhai, and hated by people from almost all walks of life except by NGO, NPO or philanthropists, and there was a reason behind it. Most of these organizations (not all) were making money by using these street children and their issues, but some of these organizations were genuinely working for the street children and for their needs and rights. This callous attitude of the people and shabby treatment given to street children was sufficient to promote negative impact on their personality development. They grew up in the streets with the perception that people didn't like them and their own thinking about the people around them was negative. As a result, negative aspects of human nature became more prominent whereas the positive aspects remained subdued due to which deviant personality of the street children made them abnormal in terms of standards set for obedient and normal person.

The street children used licit and illicit means to fulfill their needs to survive and to cope with the circumstances. Licit activities were categorized into respectable and disrespectful such as labor and begging. Labor is licit but disrespectful whereas begging was neither licit nor respectable but the street children blended labor with begging activities and used it effectively to earn money. Their method was simple; whenever they saw any well-off person around them they would start begging. They had become habitual beggars and acted like Baychara (innocent and deprived) and repeated the monotonous statements, "Koch daay na, mein ney sobha sey koch nehein khaya" (Please give me some money as I am hungry since morning). In case their request was turned down, the innocence on their faces disappeared, the acting vanished and they showed a certain degree of discontent and discomfort by murmuring some un-praiseworthy words.

But these type of responses were short-lived as the next moment they moved on to some on e else. Any type of insult carried no meaning for them. It went on to show their emotionless behavior. Even though their immediate response was aggressive and full of anger and they showed it by the brisk soundless movement of lips. If opponent was strong then they started him with anger and used voiceless foul language. And when they found the opponent to be weak they never hesitated to assault him even. But if one started abusing them verbally they responded in an even more aggressive manner and made one's position awkward. If some one tried to advise them on the moral ethics, their reply was extremely curt, 'If you want to give us something, fine, if not, then just take your way as we know what is best for us'. People not only felt astonished to listen to such awkward outbursts but were also amazed at the bold utterance of the begging child.

In short, their responses meant that only they understood the street problems and the general public was totally ignorant about them. If one tried to force them away physically they used a very clever ploy by injuring themselves, shouting and weeping loudly in public to gain attention and sympathies from bystanders and put one in difficult situation. The best remedy for the sympathetic person in this case was to escape from the scene immediately, since most of the people in this society belonged to poor class or lower middle class and because of their dual character, it was not sure whose side they would take. For instance, they themselves disliked street children or detested their practices but when someone else showed disrespect towards these children they always took children's side, forcing that person to feel ashamed of his behavior.

This dual personality of the people was very unpredictable and street children too were very familiar to such behavior and had the potential to turn the situation in their favor whenever they felt like. A passenger at bus station caught a street child and blamed him for pick pocketing. As the passenger started beating him, the boy picked up a stone and hit it in his own head and injured himself. Besides he started wailing and abusing loudly at the passenger, creating a scene in the process. This put passenger in difficult position as he was unable to prove anything. Street child succeeded in getting sympathies of bystanders and put the passenger in a very inconvenient situation. This way, the child turned the situation in his favor and managed to escape from the scene altogether.

Discriminations are often a result of an attitude called prejudice-a prejudging of some sort, usually in negative way. There is also positive prejudice, which exaggerates the virtues of a group, as when people think that some group (usually their own) is more capable than others. Most prejudice, however, is negative, and involves prejudging a group as inferior. [12]

Positive prejudices were less in number as compared to negative prejudices where people judged the street children as inferior segment of the society, because they were neglected, abandoned, and discriminated not only by their beloveds or parents but also by the society as a whole. People saw the pitiful condition of these children and would say a few sympathetic stereotype words and thought they had done their duty. Street children also felt this discriminated and prejudiced attitude of the people towards them. The behavior of the street children changed as soon as they saw or interacted with people. They frequently repeated the statements like, 'no one loves us, and they use us for their own vested interests and leave us again in this condition of no care. A lot of people come to us in the name of health and education, encourage us, start working with us, promise us shelter and education, health and food but all that is very short lived.

We have heard that they are making lot of money out of it and we do not get anything out of their share. We are abandoned time and again until some one else comes and starts playing the same game with us and with our destiny. We are fed up of this, but are forced to follow their programs or plans because in return we get food, shelter and a little bit of education and health facilities too from their program though for a very short time. Some of those people were very nice and sincere, they loved us but majority of them were earning money and fame out of our lives and by exploiting us.

One doctor used to come to us once a month, took us with him and collected blood from us but one good thing about him was he kept us in very good place, took care of our food for a week or so and then left us in the same place and gave us enough money in exchange of donating blood. People are prejudiced to us and think that we are involved in blood selling business but that is not true because that doctor never asked the same person again for blood. It is very difficult to contact us again because we don't have any home or permanent place to live so it is not easy to trace us. He never gave us his address, we heard, he belonged to another place not Pirwadhai, and took us there in small groups.

During our stay at his place we were not allowed to go out, so we don't know the exact location but our suspicion is that it was somewhere near Bharakahu, Islamabad. He never forced us to go with him and donate blood; one of those children who had given his blood told the researcher about his pleasant stay at doctor's place and wished to be there again because of the good care extended to him by the doctor. It was also confirmed by the field staff of one of the NGO who was working for these children for provision of shelter home and education in this area of Pirwadhai.

Prejudice Influence the Fabric of Society

This was kind of new venue to search as when we say that people become prejudice when they are unable to address their real issues, they put blame on others. John Dollard a Psychologist suggested that prejudice is the result of frustration. People who are unable to strikeout at the real source of their frustration (such as low wages) find someone to blame. [12]

Street children were found blaming their circumstances and environment for pushing them to the streets. But they hardly talked about their own shortcomings, their dream of luxurious and independence life and peer pressures which forced them to adopt streets. Instead they blamed poverty and their parents especially who were living single, remarried life due to spouse death, polygyny and indifferent attitude of parents and siblings. They also blamed the harsh attitude of school teachers due to which they were forced to leave the school. They were bold enough to say that they did not want schooling rather they would never think of going to school again. Very few of the children accepted that they were happy with street life or enjoyed every moment of it by all means. They admitted in frank manner that they had committed a mistake but were not ready to return to their homes and rejoin their family.

They owned up this fact and enjoyed it in spite of hardships because they did not have any other option but to continue to live street life. They never felt like going home because home environment was tougher than street in their view. This kind of prejudice towards home and institutes was in the minds of street children and they blamed every one for this situation.

People interacting with them had their own prejudices against the street children. They thought that no body could control them and their behaviors. Once they made up their minds for anything they acted upon it without realizing the consequences. They considered street children untrustworthy, thieves, trouble makers, hazards and source of most of the petty and other crimes. "This known menace should be tackled immediately otherwise it might cause disaster to the peace of the society and give rise to the social evils" was the general feeling among the people.

In contrast, the street children were of the opinion that they should be given proper attention, care and their basic needs fulfilled to make them useful part of the society. The people, society and their behaviors in fact forced them to behave like that. 'We too are human beings then why are we treated inhumanly, and every street child is not a criminal so why do people hate all of us. The elders are also involved in such devious activities why are they not treated in same manner as we are. Stereotype mentality working against us should change at all levels of the society, including the government. The private and public offices do not have enough time for us or to look into our matters and suggest some remedies to bring us in the mainstream of the society. No one has given a serious thought to provide us an enabling environment where opportunities for decent work, regular schooling, and access to health services are provided without prejudice.

It might be de facto (practiced, but not legally sanctioned) or de jure (part of the law). Society should take notice of it, whether it is de facto or de jure, in both cases it is harmful to the society. We are not the only ones who harm the society, the existing corrupt system is sufficient to destroy the society". Labeling us as a social evil or cultivating a hateful behavior towards us should come to an end now. We should be made to feel like part of the society and not aliens, we should not be forgotten as equal citizens otherwise time will come when we might forget you and no one would be able to do anything to stop this negative attitude, which is now growing along with us in the society.

Prejudice means devaluing (looking down up on) a group because of its assumed behavior, values, abilities, or attributes. People are prejudiced when they hold stereotypes about groups and apply them to individuals. (Stereotypes are fixed ideas-often unfavorable-about what the members of a group are like.) [13]

Time has come for people from all walks of life including street children to change their attitude towards each other for the better and try to find common and acceptable solution to these problems due to which street children get labeled as deviants, criminals, and marginalized. This was how street children give voice to their inner feelings; 'we are more loyal to this country than you people who are running government and sitting in government offices just for corruption and making money and thinking only for themselves and for their families. If they really want to do something for us they have to change their mentality. Do not pity us; rather try to be helpful and supportive to us. Give us our basic rights and fulfill our needs and then we will show you our potential. We can be equally good as other children. We are not different creatures, but are like you, so please have positive feelings toward us'.

These street children posses both the negative and positive behaviors and prejudice against them is right to some extent but we should be careful about its intensity. Everything is happening in the society in the main stream and the street children were pushed to isolation. This forced separation of street children from the main society has surely caused frustration which leads to different psychological disorders, health problems, personality gaps, and promotes evil practices in the society.

Social Perspectives and State of Street Children

Violation of cultural standards normally happened with addicts who started lecturing on truth, morality, parents respect, and religious speech and so on. But they themselves did just opposite of what they said; it indicated clear violation of their behavioral standards set by the culture where they lived and had to abide by the rules and standards of that particular culture for its prosperity and development. Different kinds of compulsions also forced individuals to break those standards of cultural behaviors or made them substandard slowly and steadily.

Such prejudice and interaction can cause psychological disorders among the individuals. Several criteria exist for defining a psychological disorder. Sometimes a person needs to meet only one criterion to be diagnosed as having a psychological disorder. In other cases, more than one of the following criteria may be met: Violation of cultural standards behavior, exhibition of such behavior is very harmful to self and to others experiencing distress. [14]

Societal discriminatory behavior to its members itself became very significant when they nurture the child or abandon him, neglect or leave him unsupervised. The individuals damage culture's own values and norms in the name of development, industrialization, and globalization. When the debased society starts protecting the vested interests of powerful this gives birth to behavior of violence among its members, street children being no exception. However, they are the biggest losers as they are seen as lowest members of the society and become victims of discrimination, which leads to psychological disorders in the longer run.

Furthermore, too much exhibition of such behavior was factually very harmful just like excess of every thing is bad. The street children, when depressed took to drugs and tended to become violent, but in most of the cases they harmed themselves physically rather get harmed by some one else. Thefts, lying, cheating, pick pocketing and other evil practices were very common among the street children who were also drug addicts. In the unpredictable environment they ganged up and tried to prove themselves as brave, intelligent, bold and fearless, and it was for the reason they exhibited their behavior too frequently and without any hesitation, which made them act criminally or be prone to physical injuries. They usually experienced distress, which led them to be violent or do something unusual so as to relieve them from the painful anxiety. Street children not only were vulnerable but also had the inclination to get them involved in such abnormal activities and consequently experienced psychological disorders.

Sociologists find psychological explanations inadequate. They stress that the key to understanding prejudice is not an individuals' internal state, but factors outside the individual. Thus, sociological theories focus on how some environments foster prejudice, while others discourage it. Symbolic interactionists stress that we are not born with prejudice. Instead, we learn prejudice through interaction with others. [15]

Street children went through various experiences because of their makeshift arrangements for shelter and food. They learned different norms and values of those cultures with whom to interact in order to find best possibilities for their own safety and survival. These cultures shaped their personality, attitude and behaviors. Such interaction taught them the methods of survival but at the same time it affected their attitude towards others but they did not hesitate to behave in an anti-social manner. But there were exception too. These exceptions were the ray of hope of survival that groomed them in frustration and inferiority complex which surely leads to underdeveloped personality both socially and biologically. And when they were unsupervised and open to social evils like drugs, all kind of sexual abuses and chance to play in the hands of criminals and different gangs such as beggars, smugglers, traffickers, pimps or prostitutes, then probability of anti social personality development increased.

It had multifaceted impact on individuals, society and inter and intra familial relations.

In this society, sex was considered as "Jinsei khawahish muhnh zoor ghoray key terha hoti hey, aik martaba bidak gaeya pher sanbhalna muskil hey aisey he soch agar gencei khawahish key taraf chaley gai pher usey control karana agar na momken nehin to intehaie mushkal zaroor hey" (sex is like unruly horse, when it gets angry, it is hard to control. Similarly if the mind diverts to sexual desire it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control it. Adolescence, if unsupervised, remains free of moral values and are vulnerable to sex and it can cause psychological disorders. A lot of pornographic literature, films and video games, which provoked sex in the teenagers, were easily available in the market and that was enough to make the street children prurient. They adopted every method for sex satisfaction including Muthmarna (masturbation), Bachabazi or Mundabazi (sex with children, homosexuality), Randibazi (sex with prostitutes), rapes etc.

This sort of sexual involvement was harmful to their health and produced physical as well as psychological disorders among the adolescent street children. They felt sense of shame and guilt after every homo-sex attempt but they continued with it. Some of them had become HIV positive after having sex with prostitutes. Mostly they brought a prostitute for a night and couple of boys pooled the money to pay to the prostitute, after having sex with her turn by turn usually through the whole night. For homo-sex they used very weird places such as under the bridge of Nallahs (rain drainage stream), and roof of the shops of Pirwadhai bus stand. Both male children and female prostitutes were easily available on payment for those who were able to pay more and could use hotel services for this purpose. These sexual activities were also carried out in the name of providing street children employment, food, shelter and protection.

The culture where they live played a pivotal role in development of their personality, homo-sexual were making them homo-sexual, beggars were turning them into beggars, prostitutes making them prostitutes, smugglers training them as smugglers, thieves joining them into their ranks and so on. When they became adults they returned to the society and offered in return what that society had given to them. It was observed that 80% among the street children became selfish, liars, thieves and were found ready to do anything for the sake of money. One must be clear about the fact that those children who were 'of the street' were less in number but had more ability to turn into miscreants whereas 'on the street Children' were more in number but had less ability to turn into miscreants due to a little supervision, daily or regular family contacts but had equal chance to be wrongdoers.

Culture makes the difference by grooming the child in its own way though some of the socio-economic necessities push them to adopt those cultures which can distort their personality to end up with psychological disorders. The cultures with ample resources have no threat of survival and involve their children in chores thus promoting altruism among the children. Cultures with fewer resources promote hostility among the deprived individuals. They became selfish and antagonistic towards the society and the people whom they hold responsible for their deprivation.

Individual's personality is shaped by the ambient culture due to which members of a culture behave differently. Ambient culture means that an individual is interacting with other cultures and subcultures, because of that we feel they are not behaving in similar manner rather differently. Individual's learning from its own culture, subcultures and exposure to other cultures shape the personality type. "The personality of an adult is shaped by the ways in which infants and young children are treated. How children are fed, when they are weaned, how much affection they receive, all would shape personality (Cora Dubois, 1930)". [16] It was observed that street children who did not go through the experience of difficult survival phase were comparatively less aggressive, bit shy and cultivated with positive thoughts such as value of education, meeting with parents, siblings, and sending part of their earnings to their parents.

While children who experienced abuse in the family, hateful attitude of those with whom they interacted all the day long or whole night, or experienced indifferent attitude at living or working place, became more volatile and depressed. They didn't want to meet their parents if they were alive (single or both), but some times they do had some affection for their siblings and that was all. They were bold and ready to behave or respond in an aggressive manner, they felt at ease to do any thing for money. They understood the weakness of the people around them as well as their clients and acted according to the situation.

Mostly street children were found to be hostile, suspicious, desirous and deceptive. The way they were treated and the way food provided to them at the time of hunger collectively shape their personalities, attitudes and behaviors. In return they paid in same coin to the society which had shown empathy to their basic needs, whereas the society now demands him to behave as a mature and responsible adult. Ruth Benedict (1935) in her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, wanted to prove that gender characteristics were not "natural", that is to say shaped by biology and genetics, but rather shaped by culture. She was of the opinion that by changing culture, you could change personality. [17] Cultural Anthropology focuses on culture which is a learning behavior and is transmitted from one generation to another, but one can not neglect the acculturation and diffusion where different cultures try to invade the existing or practicing culture.

There are various means through which these cultures can be modified for instance, print, electronic, film media, by frequent travelers, immigration, and by direct interaction with people who belong to different cultures etc. Street children were also frequent travelers, exposed to all kinds of media without censor and had interaction with variety of people belonging to different cultures and subcultures. They learned not only those kinds of cultures but also tried to practice them whenever they got an opportunity. For instance, elder street children tried to give vent to their anger on the younger ones in the manner similar to the one they experienced at the hands of the elder children of their time. They belonged to different cultures and got acculturation by interacting and socializing with people belonging to other cultures and adapted their traits for survival. This was in fact the way where their personality shaped as obedient or deviant for certain cultures according to those cultural interpretations.

Street children's experiences on the streets created various psychological disorders in them, which had long lasting impact on their personality development and behaviors. Such behaviors not only hindered individual personality but also retarded human development as a whole and had a very serious effect on the society and culture to which they belonged. The study showed that almost all street children need to work for survival even in odd timings, sometimes from dawn to dusk. Those children were rag pickers and laborer working in the fruit market, hotels or bus stands. They were employed on daily wages and worked whole day tirelessly. But if the owner got angry with them he kicked them out without giving them their wage. Conversely employer threatened children with serious consequence and blamed them for all the wrong doings, mostly in order to get rid of them.

This kind of treatment meted out to the children caused frustration and irritation that gradually led to psychological disorders among the children who were claimed, broadly speaking, as the future or pillars of any nation and the fathers of tomorrow by the civil society.

Street Children Overshadowed by Inferiority Complex

Street children experience rejection all the time while interacting with other segments of the society and well to do people who were so called prestigious yet treat street children indifferently and make them realize in a very crude way that they can never join their ranks and could never be like them. This attitude leads to inferiority complex among the street children.

Inferiority complex arises when a person finds himself in a situation where their abilities and attitudes are denigrated or rejected by other people. He / she then strive to develop themselves according to their own standards and values. He / she strive to develop themselves so as to provide their own justification of themselves, to provide their own sense of satisfaction in their own worth as a person. It is a need to validate one's self by oneself; it is the need for individual accomplishment. [18]

People's sustained non-cooperative behavior towards street children develops various kinds of complexes in their already disfigured personality and pushes them to the edge of abnormality. They forget others and think about themselves only, become selfish, annoyed, and furious about their lives. They put themselves to ultimate danger by their own behavior and choices for living, which could not be under any definition a healthy sign for any society or for its overall development. Such socially sick children of the society became chronic and incurable; and they reach a saturation point, which is a point of no return. They adopted illicit and harmful activities as an escape to overcome their complexities, which according to their perception could only be overcame when they have a lot of money with them because money makes the mare go. A street child said, "One should have money, no matter how one gets it.

No one was bothered from where it came, people respect only wealthier person and that is all". The simple fact was that if one earns more money, respect would follow automatically. It was understood that money was sole criterion that determined respect in the society, people respected wealthy persons not bothering about the source of their wealth. Another boy said, "Look around, very less number of honest people could be found who are wealthy or satisfied with their living patterns, many are dishonest yet are respectable and satisfied." A young street child remarked about young street children that we do not come under any category, so nobody respects us. We were here to be shoved around; probably we deserve this treatment because we were inferior and had no value at all in the society. We would never be recognized neither our efforts nor hard work and constructive role towards the development of the society. We would continue to remain a nuisance, untrustworthy, and cause of irritation for the people".

Street children always needed to be appreciated like every one, and wanted to be recognized as an important human being. This recognition and encouragement in fact gave motivation to street children to do more and better to get more rewards for good work and be ready for punishment for wrong doings. Motivation is the reason for following aims and desires. It is either the desire to experience something or the desire to achieve something, and takes the form of two drives (a drive is the energy component of motivation). [18] The appreciation in shape of good, some warm words and material reward were something that was always held in high esteem. It was observed that they were very sharp, intelligent and quick to grasp the situation around them and respond immediately according to their own set merits. Psychology describes motivation as a set of primary (outer) and secondary (inner) drives of its nature.

Primary drive, which is bound by external factors control or influence the ego of its expression to meet the secondary drive that is actually "wish/desire", needs to be fulfilled by all means. Among street children due to their complexes secondary drive dominates the primary drive, because of this they exhibit abnormal behavior whereby they always remained in state of conflict with the society and its norms and values. When they were unsupervised, they enjoyed freedom, and the environment with which they were going to be socialized, was set to decide their destination. This was because the primary drive became secondary or lost its sequence, and one did not know whether it would be reactivated again or remain dead forever.

Primary motivation is egoistical and occurs through the desire to satisfy needs. This is the egoistical or 'outer' drive, since it relates to the influences on the ego of external factors; these are usually materialism and social relationships that involve dependency, status or power. Secondary motivation comes from the person's ideals of 'the good life'; this is an 'inner' (or soul) drive since it focuses on spiritual influences that usually originate from the soul. Although the soul generates the inner drive, it is the ego that controls the expression of it. This control is exercised through the ego's ideals. Only when the primary motivation is fulfilled will the soul drive become pre-eminent. [18]

Street children's socialization taught them to put survival as their first priority and rest of the things could be prioritized according to the need of the hour and in response to the situation they faced. For instance once a child reached the street the first thing he considered indispensable for his survival under unfavorable circumstances was to ensure at least his meal, shelter and protection. Later he paid attention to his dress and other hygiene issues. He could understand the prevailing circumstances and made decisions best suited to him at that point in time. These complexes including inferiority were built as a result of life experiences through different stages of development starting from childhood. Inferiority complexes might spoil the life of any individual who was raised or lived with these complexes. Street children had developed some inferiority complexes among themselves and could not utilize their abilities to achieve the targets of happy life.

Street children's makeshift arrangements and confinement to survival forced them to live in hand to mouth situations through out their lives and they transferred these deprivations and complexes to next generation, thus passing over the mantle of inferiorities and providing them the same living environment. When street children were labeled as inferior, poor, weak, foolish, stupid, untrustworthy etc then this label settled in their subconscious mind and was enough to shatter their confidence and ultimately had severe affect on their personality and behavior as an adult. One of the ex-street children who were now an adult aged 25 had gone through various experiences of such kind. Talking about his life in streets he said, "People hate us, and we can not get any respect or status even if we deserve it. We have the potential to achieve respect but neither people nor circumstances allow us to rearrange our lives.

I have the ability to do my own business but I do not have finances and other resources required for starting the business. No one is ready to trust me, not even the micro finance organization that claims to help the poor to bring them in the mainstream of the society. Those who provide finances for business, also demand some strong reference as a guarantee or security. So please tell me from where I can arrange such guarantee? Even if I managed it, as once in the past, I became a hawker, and also sold fruits, the police arrested me in a theft case and kept me in the lock up for fifteen days. While I was behind the bars, they ate all my fruits and my entire business collapsed. That arrest brought in bad fame as a hawker and I was never able to recover. After having gone through terrible ordeal of street child he grew to become a street adult and was forced to live street adult life. It is not necessary that every street child would become street adult, which is exceptional.

This street adult was labeled in this area as suspect and whenever any incidence took place the police would suspect him and arrest him. But every time police failed to prove any allegation against him. It was common for the police to conduct such raids in order to satisfy their superiors and to counter the administrative and the media pressures. Now he was working as a pimp, providing 'business' and protection to the other street children and in return claimed some money from them. While doing so he felt protected because now police could not even touch him because he became part of a bigger gang which included police itself. His masters (influential people of the area) whom he served gave him full protection and he was ready to do anything if they ordered him no matter it was lawful or unlawful. For him they were every thing and he could not take any risk to annoy them.

Fight or Flight for Survival

Street children were mostly exposed to a dangerous environment where they usually came across belligerent groups and for that they had to keep these fight or flight responses attitude on high alert so that they could cope with all the possible threats and fears of those who posed danger to their decent survival.

When man at that time faced some kind of danger, his body turns into a state called fight or flight response. Adrenaline is pumped into his blood in order to give him the ability either to start a fight or run away as fast as he can. The fight or flight response is the automatic defensive system that is built into your body that is triggered on sensing danger in order to make you either go for a fight or flee away to save yourself. [19]

This natural defense mechanism gave them extra power to confront those threats and overcome their fears or to escape immediately in case of intensity of unfavorable situation or danger. They learned to cope with dangerous situations from their daily experiences and develop some kind of internal and external defense mechanisms which they never hesitate to use when time comes. These responses had some negative impacts on the life of street children especially when triggered incorrectly. For instance, the mere sight of the police forced them to imagine that the law enforcement officials had come to arrest them. So they made good their escape to the nooks and corners of the locality in order to hide from the eyes of the police. But this kind of strategy often backfired as by escaping from the scene, they became suspects in the eyes of police and the public also.

Although this response is so powerful still it's an emergency state response, your body was not designed to run into that emergency state for prolonged periods. Your whole system becomes in an alert state to face any danger, so looking at the situation from another perspective, when you are afraid, you are much stronger than when you are not. The only problem with fight or flight response is when it is incorrectly triggered. [19]

The problem with street children was that most of the time they stayed in hazardous/or dangerous conditions so the chances of triggering these responses incorrectly remained on the higher side. The continued state of emergency for a prolonged period had negative impact on their growth and caused many physical, psychological and social set backs and were another danger that grew within ones inner responses and external threats. The best thing was to use such responses at the time of emergency only as its nature suggested that this was what street children learn unintentionally and develop while dealing with the perceived threats, dangers, and fears. Sometimes they remained so cool that they were not even thinking to respond to those situations and kept their fight and flight responses at a senseless position. They neither fight nor flight but just gazed at the person who was to harm him/them.

This kind of attitude was more harmful, vulnerable and was required to be naturally activated to prepare for fight or flight responses from safety, security and survival point of view.

Persistent Anxiety in Street Children

Anxiety is also a kind of expression or feeling of worry about future or any event of which one is not sure of how to accomplish and whether it would be done or not. It is also a sort of a fight and flight response with the only difference that such are immediate responses against a situation one perceives whereas anxiety is a kind of fear and does not require immediate countermeasure, rather invokes thought processes to fulfill the demand of the situation. Street children once on the streets get anxious about their survival, protection, food and shelter etc, and their anxiety compels them to find out the ways to achieve the said needs and keep pursuing them till they reach some decision regarding these concerns.

They were scary of street life but their anxiety enabled them to find viable solution to their problems making them confident enough to cope with the situation. However it had not always happened like that, as they were equally at danger to lose their confidence due to their anxiety, insecurity and fear. These traits caused hopelessness and misperception about the problem like, how big was the problem or whether it existed or not. Anxiety affects the human beings in general and street children in particular, first in gaining, and secondly in losing confidence during the problem tackling and coping with difficult situations. It also put them in restless conditions, which definitely had serious impact on their physical and mental development and health. One could find different kinds of anxieties and fears among these street children who went through new and difficult circumstances everyday.

Evidence showed that as soon as they gained some confidence, some untoward incidence took place, which was enough to shatter their confidence and brought them to same conflicting state of mind where another anxiety was waiting for them. This dilemma, which was more like a repetition of anxieties, continues in their life and no one was sure how long it would continue to trouble them in their volatile lives in the streets.

Anxiety and anxious condition made them uncomfortable and they started thinking to get rid of this situation, but before they did so a new wave of such depressing situation was ready to test their nerves. There were many ways to get rid of it but the researcher had divided it into two categories; positive and negative. The positive way of street children was to explore the real solution of the issue and take firm stance on it. The opposite was the negative category where they tried to escape from the real problem instead of finding a solution and such category was enough to shake their confidence. To overcome their anxiety they started smoking, took alcohol (if they could afford it) and other cheap drugs, which unfortunately added to existing worries instead of lessening them and making children free of worries.

These street children who lived without supervision had much tendency to adopt negative ways to deal with their anxieties, which further aggregated their condition and induced them to drug addiction, store restlessness in their minds, and cultivate loneliness in their social life.

Prevalent Depression in Street Children

Depression is psychological condition that makes the person abnormally slow, dull, silent, and brings a change in the attitude. The depressed way of thinking and feelings also affects social behavior and sense of physical well-being.

Depression can interfere with normal functioning, and frequently causes problems with work, social and family adjustment. It causes pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the depressed person. [20]

Some of the street children maintained a regular family contact but became more deviant, preferred to hang out all the day long till mid night on the streets, gang up, and got involved in crimes such as purse snatching, robbery, and shoplifting etc. This category of street children mostly belonged to upper middle class or upper class families. The children belonging to upper middle class were found very depressed due to idealizing the economic status of the upper class and had tendency to get inspired from the elite friends whereas children belonging to elite class were altogether neglected by their parents. Their parents remained engaged in their businesses, offices or in other socio-political or welfare activities. They might be philanthropists, advisors on grooming of children, psychologists and sociologists talking on human rights at length and lecturing on affection towards the other children.

They might be so called champions of child rights but when it came to their own children, they were completely ignorant of their activities and needs. They thought that they had provided every comfort and facility to their children and their children were superior to others in all respects. Such parents assumed that their children should understand their parent's compulsions and cooperate with them; as they (the parents) had sacrificed their energies and best years to provide a comfortable life to their children. They were convinced that their children's primary duty was to concentrate on their studies only. In fact this type of thinking on part of parents caused depression among the children of this class because children wanted to share their successes and failures with their parents; wanted their attention and demanded their parent to spend more time and share happy moments with them. This serious neglect on part of the parents caused such depression among their children and pushed them to the street life.

These kinds of children were, normally impressed by adventurous, thrilling movies and loved to copy their heroes.

Psychologists often describe social learning factors as being significant in the development of depression, as well as other psychological problems. People learn both adaptive and maladaptive ways of managing stress and responding to life problems within their family, educational, social and work environments. These environmental factors influence psychological development, and the way people try to resolve problems when they occur. Social learning factors also explain why psychological problems appear to occur more often in family members, from generation to generation. If a child grows up in a pessimistic environment, in which discouragement is common and encouragement is rare, that child will develop a vulnerability to depression as well. [20]

Depression was accompanied with some other serious behavioral problems in such type of children. They became volatile, exhibited hostile behavior that encouraged them to break the societal values, flay norms, rules and regulations at will. One of the negative traits observed in these children was that they tried to deprive others of their rights, mistreated, and humiliated others as a routine matter. They bullied other children, got involved in street fights and didn't hesitate in using the weapons such as knife, revolver, razor, stick etc to subdue their enemies. Their personality development process was in disarray and their behavior was considered deviant or a social evil that could be harmful to others and in its extreme form it could be detrimental to the peace of the society.

A personality disorder refers to a pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behavior, consistently exhibited by an individual over a long period of time that is maladaptive because it creates psychological distress and life coping problems, rather than assisting with life adjustment and problem solving. [20] Street children exhibited certain kind of behaviors for their survival and basic needs. All children learnt a set of moral values and moral behavior in their early years of family life. This strange behavior became part of their personality traits and their behavior provides them immediate escape and/or relief but in the long run these proved to be disastrous and caused personality disorders. The street children by and large learned to tell a lie, posing themselves as innocents, developing habits of theft, and cunningness to gain favors from others.

The children who leave home and begin to live on the streets soon realize that the values their family taught them (such as honest, integrity, etc.) are not conducive to their survival on the streets. At times they are forced to steal food and money because they have none of their own. They have to swallow their pride in order to beg for food or money. They learn to live without a daily bath, in unhygienic and unsanitary conditions. They learn to let go of their shame when they have no clothes or when they have only an undergarment to wear. [21]

The maladaptive psyche of these children in fact was making them non-resistant rather than compromising to the principles and they finally finished up as depressed human beings who lagged behind in every field and were considered as a misfit organ of the society. It would be difficult to determine the maladaptive and deviant, or adaptive and obedient behavior, whether these behaviors were accepted voluntarily by the individuals or were imposed on them. Question arise that who was responsible to provide them the environment conducive to their survivals, behavioral development and who is the deciding force of such behaviors? Stanely and Baca [22] answered it in this way: Whoever holds the power determines who or what is deviant. Power is a crucial element in deciding who or what is deviant. Certain social groups have rela!tively greater power and resources than others in getting their definitions of deviance to prevail.


When the street children enter the unexplored street world they are already carrying a mental burden, gifted to them by their congested home environment and disjointed family. Their foremost priority is survival in an alien, non friendly situation. They have a preconceived notion that perhaps street would be their accommodative partner but things do not turn out to be as per their desire and they face a conflict situation. The street children are unique individuals in their attitudes and behaviors, their conduct with others at all levels is exceptionally different. Their perception about people and people's perception about them is generally unrealistic and based on misconceptions. Street children are viewed with overwhelming negativity by the people and are considered a social burden.

The challenges encountered by the street children outcastes them from the mainstream while at the same time labeling them as either obedient or deviant or in extreme cases as social evils. Once the children are able to overcome the tough street tests, they accept the culture of the street where dishonesty and double dealing is considered a norm.



[2] Matsumoto, D., Culture and Psychology: People around the World, 2nd Ed. Wadsworth Thomson Learning., 2000.

[3] Hofstede, G., Culture consequences: International Differences in Work related Values. Beverly Hills, and Newbury Park respectively, CA: Sage., 1980.

[4] Kluckholn, F. Strodtbeck, F., Variations in Value Orientations. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson., 1961.

[5] Mead, M., Cooperation and Competition among Primitive People. Boston: Beacon press., 1961.

[6] Triandis, H. C., The Analysis of Subjective Culture. New York: Wiley., 1972.

[7] Matsumoto, D., Culture and Psychology: People around the World, 2nd Ed. Wadsworth Thomson Learning., 2000.

[8], January 23, 2008

[9] Mulder, M., The Daily Power Game, Leyden, Netherlands., 1976.

[10] Martinus, and Hofstede, G., Culture Consequences: International Differences in Work related Values. Beverly Hills, and Newbury Park respectively, CA: Sage., 1980, 84.

[11] (January 25, 2008)

[12] Henslin, M. J., Essential of Sociology; A Down to Earth Approach; 4th edition, Allyn and Bacon., 2002.

[13] Kottak, P. C., Cultural Anthropology. 9th edition, McGraw-Hill Higher Education., 2002.

[14], Psychological Disorders. (February 6, 2008)

[15] Henslin, M. J., Essential of Sociology; A Down to Earth Approach; 4th edition, Allyn and Bacon., 2002.

[16] Culture and personality. (January 21, 2008)

[17] (January 23, 2008)

[18] %20glossary.htm#Definitions




[22] Stanely, E. D. and Baca, Z. M., Social Problem, 8th edition, USA: Allyn and Bacon., 2002

Department of Anthropology, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
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Author:Rana, Haroon-ur-Rashid
Publication:Science International
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Date:Dec 31, 2011

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