We need to look beyond the tattered clothes that street children wear into the reason for their misfortune.
Mention the words street children and many people all over the world will think of the little dirty nuisances that roam the streets. We conjure up images fit to be forgotten whenever the issue of street children arises. If you are keen enough, you will see a change in a person’s attitude and facial expression, all portraying a dislike for these unfortunate beings. Where such hatred comes from is a topic for another day. Where and why the children take to the streets is the issue I want to discuss today.
Okay, I agree, children living on the streets can be a nuisance especially when they follow you around asking for money. Many of you -tourists and those living in developing countries- have experienced it on busy streets where everyone is watching this tiny figure; hand stretched out, asking for money. It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable.
But again, which child would ever choose such a destiny? Did they choose destiny, or did some one choose it for them?
In Uganda (East Africa) for instance, 51% of the population is under 18 (Source: Children on the Brink, 2004). We have 10,000 street children in Uganda (Source: Ministry of Gender) and 150 million street children world wide (Source: International Labor Organization)
Forget the issue of instability for a moment. As much as it’s a leading cause of street children, it’s only in selected regions in the world. What about the other parts which are much safer? What prompts those children to take to the streets?
Could it be a love for money? I don’t think so. Could it be disciplinary issues? May be. But from my 3-year experience working with vulnerable children, neglect (from parents/guardians) is playing a key role in pushing kids to the streets. “If only parents could take their role seriously and care and love their children, fewer children would be on the streets today”, a well known cleric once commented.
We have fewer parents today but more child bearers. I have come across many street children whose stories comprise of abuse and neglect. This isn’t only in Uganda but the whole of Africa and the world in general. Parents play a big role in determining their children’s future. Some of the children on the streets are sent by their able-bodied parents to beg. In the evening, they go back home with the ‘earnings’. They are what we call part-time street children. They are denied the chance to just be kids, enjoy life and go to school- even with free education!
There is this one child, who while still living on the streets, wondered about the destination of all the children wearing uniforms and bags on their backs. The concept of school wasn’t known to him. So every morning, he would stand on the street, admiring and envying these smart beings. To him, they were rich, lucky and sophiscated. His dream was to one day have a bag on his back, wear a uniform and walk around.
In Africa, however much you rehabilitate a child without doing the same for the parents especially the mother, the chances of that child having a normal childhood are slim. I know of a lady whose daughter receives education sponsorship but when school ends, she drags her to the street to beg. It is embarrassing for the child, but this is her mother, she has to obey her!
I believe if parents are more caring and hardworking, children won’t be running off to the streets. We might have poverty and HIV/AIDs, but these have been around even before I was born. How come our parents were able to deal with them without necessarily sending us to the streets? They didn’t resort to child labor and beatings to earn a living. They protected us. They didn’t discriminate between biological children and dead relatives’ children. We were all children.