About three and a half decades ago in Soweto, South Africa thousands of African (black) school children marched to protest the poor quality of the education in their schools. And in that attempt to ask for their right and equal opportunities the security forces opened fire and hundreds of young students were shot. (Remember Sarafina! the film). The protests that followed that brutality, saw hundreds of people killed and thousands injured. The African Union (then the OAU) met in Nigeria in 1990 and initiated the International Day of the African Child (DAC) which was first held in June 16, 1991 to honor the memory of those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976.
This year’s commemoration of the DAC is under the Global Theme: All Together for Urgent Actions for Street Children. The Day focuses on the plight of the estimated 30 million “street children” across the continent.
Who are street children?
The street children and families phenomenon is one of the major socio-economic challenges in African countries. Children continue to pour into the streets due to rapid population growth, poverty, rural urban migration, and calamities such as HIV/AIDS and drought.
UNICEF has categorized street children into four clusters:
Children on the street: These children maintain good family ties and often return home in the evening after spending the day on the street begging, working or engaging in petty offences.
Children of the streets: They have loose family contacts, spend some nights or days on the streets and occasionally go back home.
Children in the streets: These groups of children are completely detached from their families, leading a life in makeshift shelters.
Children of street families: Consist of children who are born and bred on the streets.
Street children lack access to a wide range of rights and basic services including healthcare, shelter, protection, family support and education. These children are at higher risk since they have no one to look out for them. They are consistently abused and treated inhumanely. They are exposed to risks, including HIV/AIDS, exposure to environmental pollution, street accidents, risk of early pregnancy, drug and substance abuse, sexual and economic exploitation. They also lack access to clean water, food and sanitation facilities. Research shows that many have low self-esteem and poor emotional development, often a key factor in their drift to the streets thus increasing their alienation and exclusion from society and families.
In Kenya, the provision of free primary education for all has reduced the number of street children. This was done in the spirit of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and fulfilling the right to education enshrined in the Children’s Act 2001 under safeguards for the rights and welfare of the child. The Kenyan government has also committed itself into implementing international Standards on child protection by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Both the UNCRC and the ACRWC stress the right of all children to development, survival, participation and protection.
Africa Take Care of Your Own!