BANGLADESH — The small, ramshackle “home” sits just feet from the edge of railroad tracks. The house made of corrugated tin, bamboo, plastic tarps and wood is one small room shared by a family of six. The roof leaks when it rains and looks in danger of collapsing.
But this home is all 10-year-old Farjana’s family can — barely — afford.
Farjana and her youngest brother, 8-year-old Shukor Ali, must beg to help their family survive. Nearly every day, the children can be found begging at a busy intersection in their city that’s surrounded by shops, restaurants and businesses.
“When I was very young, my father died,” Farjana says. “My mom was unable to manage our family by providing food and other needs for us. … The last six years I have been going to the [intersection] for begging and earning money for my family.”
Farjana’s family is doing what they can to make it. Farajana and her four siblings live with their mother, 50-year-old Khotija, in the one-room shack. Her eldest brother is 20 and divorced, living back home, and works in a garment factory — but doesn’t always share the money with his family. Her next brother is 17 and unemployed. Farjana’s 15-year-old sister works in a color factory and “sometimes she provides [money], and sometimes she does not,” her mother says. Khotija doesn’t have a job or beg because of her ill health.
Farjana and her sister are the breadwinners for this family — but it’s not enough.
Farjana isn’t able to attend school because of her family’s lack of resources and her role as breadwinner. She cannot read or write. But she wants to go to school someday because “without education, there is no significance in life,” she says.
Farjana is just one of Bangladesh’s estimated 700,000 beggars. Girls from low-income families like Farjana face many obstacles and dangers in their life — including potentially being trafficked and exploited, says Christian worker Geri Hennerman.*
“They are seen as nobodies and only good for cleaning, cooking, sex and child-bearing,” Hennerman says. “They are often beaten verbally and physically. They have little — if any — encouragement, love, correct discipline or teaching. They do not have good female role models to follow. Many are given for marriage at extremely young ages.
“They are seen as objects instead of real people.”
But impoverished girls can have the chance to avoid this dark future through the Light of Hope Learning Center, which Geri and another Christian worker started more than six years ago.
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