When we see children living on the streets the first question that comes to mind is "Why?" Forget about the standard of living, hundreds of thousands of children across Africa are forced to live in the street and are subjected to exploitation, abuse and violence each year. They are trafficked into abysmal prostitution rings, forced into ceaseless violence and recruited into many other forms of modern slavery.As this trend mounts, the international community, civil society, the United Nations and UNICEF must pull their heads out of the sand. Urgent questions now demand clear answers. What will happen to these children, or street children to be precise?
Before we go further, let us be clear about the term "street children." According to Human Rights Watch, "The term street children refers to children for whom the street, more than their family has become their real home. It includes children who might not necessarily be homeless or without families, but who live in situations, where there is no protection, supervision, or direction from responsible adults."Moreover, UNICEF has sub-categorized and defined street children into three types: Street-Living, Street-Working, and Street-Family.According to UNICEF, children from street families are children who live on the streets with their families.Street working children are children who spend most of their time working in the streets and markets of cities, but return home on a regular basis.Among these three categories, the reality of street living children is pathetic. According to UNICEF, "Street living children are children who may have lost their families through war or illness, or have been abandoned because they had become too much of a burden, or else ran away from their abusive, dysfunctional, poverty-stricken families and now live alone on the streets.""They work, living and sleeping in the streets, often lacking any contact with their families. These children are at highest risk of murder, constant abuse and inhumane treatment. They often resort to petty theft and prostitution for survival," reports UNICEF.
Though the U.N. has estimated the population of street children worldwide at 150 million, nobody knows their exact number in South Africa as street children are not easy to count because they move around a lot, within and between cities like Cape Town, Durban and Joburg .The life of street children is so pathetic that with the little money they make by street based jobs, such as car washing, begging,running errands, flower selling, newspaper selling, street vending, and shoe shining, they cannot afford one full meal a day, and most of the time they are hungry. It is hunger that is forcing them into criminal activities, and the ultimate reward they get is mob beatings or a jail term.To survive, every street child has to work very hard and in many ways they are threatened with various forms of violence as well as drug abuse. Many such children develop physical complications related to their hazardous work and unhygienic living conditions. As a result, they become apathetic to social norms and values.The horrible tale, sadly, doesn't end here. street children are often at greatest risk of violence from those that are responsible to protect them -- the police,security companies and other higher authorities."Police and securities often beat, harass, sexually assault and even torture street children. They may beat children for their money or demand payment for protection to avoid false charges, or for release from custody. They may seek out girls to demand sex. For many street children, assaults and thefts by the police are a routine part of their lives. Some are even killed by police. Very rarely are those responsible brought to justice,"
Schemes alone are not adequate.Where poverty breaks up families, economic and social policies must come together to help protect the dignity of children's lives. Moreover, the international community must back the efforts of countries in Sub Sahara, that are willing to take comprehensive steps through programs with non-governmental organizations to reduce the number of children on the streets.Fortunately, people around the world are joining a growing conscious movement for children living in our streets
Overcoming it requires an in-depth understanding of the factors that force children into streets, as well as effective interventions suited to each unique socio-cultural and economic environment.The problem of street children is complex; so the policymakers most employ multiple interventions that are integrated with one another. They should implement sustainable alternatives to keep children from returning to the hazardous and exploitive situations on the cold streets.An additional vital component of eradicating the problem is the insertion of community awareness activities in project designs. For example, a public awareness campaign to educate parents, community leaders, local organizations, teachers, and civil society about the multifarious hazards associated with street children and its negative long-term effects on future society would be beneficial.Let us not forget that the fight against street children is to expand the frontiers of human dignity and independence in the long run.