Clifton footpath schools’ head urges CJP to begin suo motu hearings

Karachi:February 8:Syeda Anfas Ali Shah, the chief of the Ocean Welfare Organization (OWO), an NGO running open-air schools for street children in the city, has requested the chief justice of Pakistan to call her organisation’s office-holders while hearing the suo motu notice it has taken of the Sindh government’s alleged move to shut down her schools.

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, Anfas said OWO’s officials would share crucial facts with the apex court about the issue. OWO runs an open-air school in two shifts under Bahria Icon Tower flyover near the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine and three footpath schools at Badar Commercial in DHA.

In January, Anfas had claimed in a press conference that the provincial government had decided to shift footpath schools run by her organisation to buildings in nearby localities and that the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) had told her team to shut down their schools or they would be made to clear the footpaths by force.

“OWO’s involvement in educating street children has raised the issue of accessibility for such children,” said Anfas. “Therefore, OWO opened a footpath school near the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi to facilitate them where parents sent their children to the footpath from the signals where they are begging.”

According to her, the school’s presence in those areas have attracted street children and transformed them from child labourers and beggars into students. “Our efforts inspired other citizens and organisations to run footpath type initiatives in various areas of Karachi,” she said.

Anfas added that while running the footpath school, students and teachers have faced threats and harassment on various occasions because educating street children was not only a problem for the economic interests of the mafia which traffics and handles children as beggars but also made it difficult for the Sindh government to hide its inefficiency and corruption in education.

The provincial government has collected billion of rupees in taxes as well as foreign funds from international donor agencies but failed to provide quality education facilities and opportunities to street children, she said.

The OWO head claimed that in the past three years, the Sindh government has tried to register false cases against her organisation and used police to force them to leave the footpath and shut down the school.

She appealed to the CJP to fix the case for hearing and allow OWO officers to appear before the Supreme Court with all necessary evidences and present the case in the interest of 2,000 street children whose welfare and future is at risk.

Govt denies accusations

Denying the accusations that the government has threatened to shut down the footpath school near Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine, the information department issued a statement on Wednesday terming news reports about the matter “false and baseless propaganda”.

According to the statement, the Sindh government has constituted a committee for the welfare and protection of such at-risk and underprivileged children. The committee comprises of secretaries of social welfare, auqaf and religious affairs, information department, the special secretary of school education & literacy department, SEF’s managing director and director programmes & planning.

The committee notified on January 25 is tasked to look into the availability of possible options for bringing children of footpath schools into the fold of mainstream education, keeping in the mind the rising trend of children begging near shrines.

The statement added that the committee’s objective is to facilitate the rehabilitation, schooling and skill development of children and adolescents, while exploring viable solutions to address the issue of various footpath schools being run across the province

The committee held its first meeting on January 29 with the intention to work with the civil society organisations already working in such areas, it read. The statement further added that OWO was invited to discuss the possibility of streamlining the footpath school it runs near the Shah Ghazi shrine and that the school education department offered to provide a dedicated school building to accommodate the students enrolled at the footpath schools in the vicinity in nearby schools.

In addition to that funds for facilitating the provision of teachers, furniture, and text books were pledged on behalf of the government, the statement read, adding that the provincial government is rejecting all allegations of forced evictions.The news.