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Safe from a life on the street

Rabeya with her sister at the Plan drop-in centre

Rabeya with her sister, Shekuti, at the drop-in centre.

September 2013: After her father died and her mother remarried, 17-year-old Rabeya found herself bearing the brunt of her stepfather's hostilities. Not knowing what to do with her daughter, Rabeya's mother sent her to a Plan-supported drop-in centre for street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

About 25 girls use the night shelter and 70-80 girls and boys under 18 use the facilities during the day, most having lived on the streets for some time. Now, with a little help from her friends, Rabeya is back on her feet and working hard.

“When I used to live with my stepfather, I was made to feel unwelcome,” she says. “He said I wasn’t welcome there. I felt very unsafe.”

Rabeya had to drop out of school in grade 9 so she could take care of her younger sister, 5-year-old Shejuti. But with family life so difficult, her mother sent them both to the drop-in centre.

“It would be too expensive for my family to send me to school so I decided to try and find work.”

Making friends

Rabeya has been able to make friends and seek guidance from professional counsellors and peer educators. Through the drop-in centre, she found a job placement at a beauty salon and learnt a trade, which led to a full-time job at another salon. All the money she earns is saved through a banking system set up by the centre.

“I am good at doing facials and those people enjoy my work. I enjoy working because I can earn on my own. I know I have to build a future for myself.,” she adds. “I think in 4 or 5 years I’ll be able to have my own parlour.”

Feeling safe

The drop-in centre provides not only shelter for Rabeya and her sister, but also a protective environment in which they can feel safe. Dhaka is a risky place for young women, says Rabeya, adding that sexual harassment is common.

Now that she's independent, the hardest thing in Rabeya's life is being separated from her mother, who she only gets to visit when she has a day off.

“I want to say to girls who are in a similar situation to me that if you have a wish, you can find out what your options are to achieve a great goal.”

Thousands on the streets

There are an estimated 350,000 children living on the streets of Dhaka. Plan supports 13 drop-in centres there, looking after 2,600 children.

All the activities and facilities – basic education, health and hygiene facilities, and information on issues such as sexual abuse, child labour and trafficking – are funded by Plan. The centres have also arranged for nearly 3,000 children to get birth certificates.

Watch a video on Plan's work with street children