Drug use, street survival, and risk behaviors among street children in Lahore, Pakistan

Susan S. Sherman, Sabrina Plitt, Salman Ul Hassan, Yingkai Cheng, S. Tariq Zafar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


There are an estimated 3,500-5,000 street children living on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan. A disproportionate number of these children use drugs and engage in survival sex as coping mechanisms. Since August, 2003, Project Smile provides mobile social and health services to street children 6 days a week in selected neighborhoods. This study utilizes data from Project Smile registration data on the program's initial clients (n = 347). The study aimed to compare current, former, and nondrug users regarding their reasons for living on the streets, survival and coping mechanisms, and reasons for drug initiation. Of the total sample, 17.0% reported never having used drugs, 15.9% reported being former drug users, and 67.1% reported having used drugs in the month before registration. Participants were 96% boys with a median age of 13 years. The median length of living on the streets was 18 months, and 52.7% had ever been arrested by the police. Odd jobs, begging, and pickpocketing were the primary sources of reported income. Forty-eight percent reported ever having engaging in transactional sex, and 40% reported cutting themselves, primarily to cope with their anger. Variables that were significantly correlated with being a current drug user (vs. never) in the presence of other variables included: being 13 years or older [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 3.0; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) = 1.3-7.0]; reporting a daily income ≥Rs60 (AOR = 2.7; 95% CI = 1.1-6.4); having a history of arrest (AOR = 3.3; 95% CI = 1.3-8.3); wanting to return home (AOR = 0.3; 95% CI = 0.1-0.8); feeling hatred from the public (AOR = 5.1; 95% CI = 2.0-12.9); ever exchanging sex for food, shelter, drugs, or money (AOR = 3.4; 95% CI = 1.3-8.9); and ever having cut themselves (AOR = 15.4; 95% CI = 3.4-70.7). Drug use is a major coping mechanism among street children in Lahore and is associated with many behaviors. Targeted programs are needed to meet their special needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)iv113-iv124
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue numberSUPPL. 4
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Drug use
  • Pakistan
  • Street children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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