Hearing street children…

Today I’ve been finalising our response to the consultation on the United National General Comment on Children in street situations – due to be submitted on the International Day itself.

The General Comment is a landmark - it will be the first ever piece of international law to deal specifically with the rights of street children and to provide legal guidance for what states need to do to uphold their rights.

I’m very excited that Safe Child Africa, our partners and most importantly the children we support have the chance to influence this. It is vital that we take these opportunities so that we can help to change systems and policies to ultimately mean our work to directly support children is no longer needed.

Over the years we’ve been involved in higher level advocacy, which is quite unusual for a charity of our size, but we’ve always worked on the basis that we need to help the children who need us today, whilst also making sure longer term and more widespread changes happen so that ultimately children won’t need our help.

Developing laws is a key part of this, and although there are laws already to protect children (including street children) in Nigeria, there are widespread negative perceptions of street children in particular – often linked to them having been accused of witchcraft – which makes people think they are justified in excluding them from this legal protection – “street children don’t deserve rights”.

Having a law that laws out in detail exactly what governments need to do to support street children will be a major step forward.

While I was in Nigeria with our Director Rick recently, we ran some workshops with children to find out what they thought street children needed and what the government should be doing about this.

One of my favourite parts of my job is working directly with the children and hearing from them about their needs and what they think should change – I fundamentally believe children’s voices need to be heard if any work to help them is going to be effective.

The workshops are pretty full on but great fun! We try to make them interesting for the children through giving them fun activities to do – this time we focused on drawing which I think they all enjoyed. 

Our submission is based around three main areas that affect street children.

First, we talk about how so many children are on the streets because they are abused at home and have nowhere else to go. For me, the main thing the government needs to do is make sure that there are high-quality alternative care facilities for children – safe, welcoming places where they feel happy.

At the moment, there are just not enough homes for children who are not safe with their families.

We have also recorded cases of children being abused in government facilities, which also shows there is a major need for proper child protection systems and monitoring of anywhere that children are cared for.

Second, we talk about why children are on the streets and what can be done to prevent this.

Although there are many factors, one huge one is poverty. Parents are too poor to care for their children properly, so they run away in search of a better life. Or for many children, their parents can’t afford to send them to school, so they end up working on the streets instead. From talking to the children, it’s clear they value education very highly, and they think the government needs to do more to make sure no child is excluded from school due to poverty.

Finally we talk about the wider context – how to truly prevent children ending up on the street, and to support children who are on the street, governments need to think about how they protect all of children’s rights. They need to design policies that are well-researched, and take account of the actual experiences of children. And they need to make sure that all the people who are tasked with helping children – police, social services etc – really understand and are committed to upholding children’s rights.