"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." — Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa
Today, the 12th of April marks the day set aside for society to highlight the plight of street children worldwide. It is the 7th International Day for Street Children which provides the platform for Governments, Civil Society Organisations, Non-governmental Organisations and International Organisation working on issues relating to Children to speak for their rights and help make their world better. According to Dr. Sarah Thomas de Benitez, CEO of Consortium for Street Children – It is deeply distressing that Governments allow children in the streets to be routinely abused, ignored and marginalised. International Day for Street Children is a unique opportunity for the world to focus attention on children who are surviving, coping and growing up in public spaces. These are children whose rights are violated every day. Today, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is due to publish its General Comment on Children in Street Situations – implying the UN recognizes that governments have an important role to play in curbing the menace and are obliged to institute effective measures aimed at protecting children whose situations are so dire, the street has become their haven. The UN General comment will thus, provide policy directions to Governments in formulating appropriate national policies to ameliorate the plight of Street Children.
A street child is a term used in reference to children experiencing homelessness and experiencing poverty, and are living on the streets of cities and towns. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) the concept is used to refer to boys and girls, 18 years and below whose permanent place of abode has become the street – from where they earn their source of livelihood, and are constantly facing insecurities. Estimated figures according to UN sources, suggest there are about 150 million street children in the world. This worldwide phenomenon, among other things is caused by socio-economic collapse as a result of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the death of a parent, family breakdown, civil wars, and natural disasters. This ekes out many children to go out and live on the streets – scavenging, begging, and hawking.
Street Children can be categorised according to those who work on the streets as their only means of getting money, those who take refuge on the streets during the day but return to some form of family at night and those who permanently live on the street without a family network. They are at risk of abuse, exploitation and all forms of violence, but the most vulnerable are those who actually sleep and live on the streets, hiding under bridges, in gutters, lorry stations or parks. While some may have small jobs such as cleaning of windscreens, selling of sachet water among other to survive, some also end up dying on the pavement, victims of drugs, rape, gang rivalry and disease. Without some form of basic education and economic training, the future is bleak for these street children and their life expectancy terrifyingly low.
In Ghana, the situation of Street Children is not very different. Street Children live under very harrowing circumstances. In a recent study under the project 'Improvement of the Living Standards of Street Children and Street Mothers in Greater Accra; co-funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and led by the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and the Ricerca e Cooperazione (RC), an Italian Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) with support from the Catholic Action for Street Children (CAS) and Street Girls Aid (S.AID). The report of the study revealed that 15.l % of sampled street children were born on the streets and 79% are migrant Children.
The findings of the study suggest a number of factors account for the menace of street children in Ghana; the search for money, which accounts 86.8 per cent, appears to be the leading cause, with the search for job opportunities ranking second and accounting for 6.4 per cent, while parental divorce ranked third with 4 per cent and death of parent (s) accounting for 2.8 per cent of the reason for the street children phenomenon. In addition, the census identified malaria, fever, cold, rashes, infection and headache as the common types of health problems among street children. It also showed that about 41.6 per cent of the street children had dropped out of school, while 58.4 per cent had never attended school and many had also dropped out of school within the past 15 years. It also said the percentage of street children taking drugs and alcohol were 6.8 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively.
While society worry about what children will become in future, it is important we don’t forget that they need to live dignified lives today. Street children are among the most physically visible of all homeless persons, living and working on the roads and public places in cities and towns across the world. Yet, paradoxically, they are also among the most 'invisible' group of people and are rarely thought of when engaging in policy planning. As we spare sometime to think about Street Children, we must keep in mind that it is easier to build strong children for the future than to repair broken men as admonished by Frederick Douglass, the Humanitarian and statesman
At Participatory Development Associates Ltd., we believe that all manner of persons are entitled to dignified living. We take this opportunity to call on the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders in the policy space to make the issues affecting street Children a priority. It is important for us to note that just because street children are voiceless does not mean that their silent cries for opportunities to learn and achieve their dreams can be ignored. These children are still our future and are very much deserving of investment into their educational opportunities for a better tomorrow.