By Annlyne Barbara Oranga
Streets children are all over the world but it is so unfortunate that it is hard to quantify them. Only estimates are given some believe they are tens of millions while others believe the number is higher than that. With this kind of uncertain data are we really able to help the street children to get appropriate help?
The same dilemma is in Kenya as we are still waiting for a statistic to be released for the children on the street. The question is how long will it take for us to know the real numbers of street children so that help can be deployed?
A survey done by Amref Kenya in Dagoretti indicated that in Dagoretti alone there were 34,070 children who go to the streets to fend for themselves. This number is increasing daily as days go on and the major causes of the situation are poor parenting skills and poverty among others.
The question is, is the street safe for our children?
The street is not safe for the child at all, once the child is on the streets he/she is vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuses. Children leave homes to join the streets because of child abuse, neglect, peer pressure and sensation seeking .They tend to believe that the streets will offer them the best but it doesn’t.
The only things our streets offer the child are:
- Lack of education
- Violence among themselves and toward others.
- Drug taking and trafficking.
- Physical and emotional abuse and neglect.
- Exposure to elements of thug life
- Early pregnancy
- Poor hygiene and sanitation
- Sexual exploitation
- Loneliness and fear among.
With all these challenges have you ever asked yourselves how they survive on the streets. Or you believe it is fun to be in the streets? Well let me highlight you it is not for fun but they engage on substance and drugs abuse to relieve themselves from the pressure of the streets, to sleep easily and to be able to endure pain, violence and hunger on the streets. That is how life is for a street child.
How long will it take us to act on the street children so that we can save them? Or will we watch from far as they fade away on the streets?
To answer this question, the committee of experts of united nations convention on the rights of a child (UNCRC) released General Comment 21, that focuses on Street connected children. The General comment has the following objectives
(a) To clarify the obligations of States in applying a child rights approach to
strategies and initiatives for children in street situations;
(b) To provide comprehensive and authoritative guidance to States on using a
holistic, child rights approach to: prevent children experiencing rights violations and the lack of choices that results in them having to depend on the streets for their survival and development; and to promote and protect the rights of children already in street situations, ensuring a continuum of care and helping them to develop to their fullest potential;
(c) To identify the implications of particular articles of the Convention for children in street situations to enhance respect for them as rights holders and full citizens, and to enhance understanding of children’s connections to the street.
The general comment come after a release of a report by TOYBOX an English charity that works to improve the welfare the lives of street connected children. The report provides the following recommendations which are in line with the general comment.
■Street living for children and youth must be legalized. This is critical to removing the opportunity and justification used by police and other security officials to beat and arrest street connected children.
■Children in conflict with the law must have access to free and fair legal representation. Such legal representation must be provided by the state and supported with appropriate training to work with vulnerable children and youth. This policy commitment must be implemented at all levels to enable individual children in conflict with the law to have access to justice.
■To better target interventions and scale them appropriately, the number of street connected children in Nairobi County, and Kenya more widely, needs to be known.
TOYBOX recommended this for NGOS and communities.
■Collaboration between actors working to strengthen the child protection system is essential for the inclusion of street connected children, who have the same rights and heightened protection needs as other vulnerable children, but often operate outside formal and informal protection structures. The Nairobi Street Children and Youth Consortium26 is an exciting development and should be adequately resourced, funded and collaborated with to advocate for street children’s rights. The Consortium should also look to incorporate their work into the larger Nairobi Child Protection Network, and not to duplicate or divide the fundamental focus of building a child protection system that protects all children.
■Effective referral systems must be in place within communities and strengthened by those working to build informal protection mechanisms. Community members, including those involved in the referral system must have access to training on child rights and child protection. Community-based referral mechanisms must be responsive to all issues of child protection and intentionally accessible to at-risk groups such as street connected children.
■Equipping children at risk with age-appropriate life skills including knowledge of consent, decision-making, communication and relationship-building skills are critical to improving their wellbeing. Activities that foster confidence and empowerment can provide essential support and protection to children in street situations today. It is also crucial to equip children with knowledge of their wider rights, access to flexible education that can be undertaken alongside working, and access to child-friendly spaces.
■Addressing the factors that enable violence against children is key. Parents and caregivers must be supported to exercise positive parenting skills through training, mentoring and counseling, as well as to access effective and supportive social services. Parents and caregivers must have opportunities for improved livelihoods, through access to financial institutions, markets and training. Viable, alternative care arrangements must exist for children who cannot remain safe within their home environment.
■Strengthening community safety net is essential for providing protection to children and families at risk. Child protection advocacy campaigns, child rights clubs for children and child protection capacity building for community leaders are all vital contributions to changing attitudes and behaviors towards protecting children and realizing their right to care and protection.
Am very sure if we implement such recommendations and others our children will not be in the streets because it is not their home.
Barbara is a journalist with Mtoto News
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