How countries are failing those whom they should protect the most

Artikel over straatkinderen voor global studies:

On the streets: how countries are failing those whom they should protect most

By Sara de Jong

In a perfect world, all parents would love their children and work very hard to give them a future. After all, children are the future. They are the ones that will have to find a solution to global warming, the shortage in fossil fuels and the poverty and hunger in Africa. Unfortunately, we do not all live in a perfect world, and not all parents are capable of taking care of their children. Many children live on the streets of the large and quickly growing megacities of the world. They don't go to school, do not develop their talents and are unlikely to get a proper job. Many of them are addicted to glue, drugs, or alcohol, caught in prostitution or (increasingly violent) crime. They have nothing to lose.

In my opinion street children are an underestimated problem. This is obviously the case for their own well-being and happiness, and that should, frankly, be enough. A society that fails its children, cannot look forward to a bright and prosperous future. But there are also more immediate problems associated with abandoned, or exploited, children. The HIV-virus, for example, is often seen as an "African" problem, as something that will never reach us. But actually, the HIV epidemic is much closer than we think. This is the consequence of the street children of the Ukraine and similar East European countries, who are addicted to drugs and share infected needles - or are infected with the HIV virus by having unprotected sex in the prostitution business. It is estimated that up to forty percent of the homeless children of St Petersburg, Russia, have been infected with HIV and in Ukraine one in ten children turned out positive when tested on HIV. The threshold for epidemics specialists work with to assess health risks for the general population is one percent.

In terms of human suffering, the plight of the street children is obviously unspeakable, and since they are generally not provided with medical care, their lives are short and miserable. They tend to be violent as well: most children have been the victim of crime (rape, theft, abusive parents), and most turn to crime themselves. The usual image is one of pickpockets, shoplifting, carjacking and other 'crimes of opportunity', but there is an aspect to their lives that is much less amenable to an Oliver Twist-like romantic interpretation: these children are often enlisted by ruthless, cynical, extremely violent criminals who do not suffer from any of the problems of the children themselves, but use them for their own enrichment. Children are easier to influence anyway, and children who have never been loved are easily seduced. This is known as organized crime, and their addiction to glue and other substances is used to keep them dependent and obedient.

The response of the states has generally been cosmetic: getting them off the streets, especially in 'desirable' parts of the cities. Both private militias and the police themselves are notoriously ruthless in many Latin American countries when it comes to sweeping clean the streets of various neighbourhoods. Even in the best of cases, the children are only taken off the streets and nourished, so as to regain strength, but without the social and psychological assistance they need in order to live a normal life in society. Such help is most often left to private parties, which do not have the money, influence on actual policy-makers, or the manpower to solve the problem of the street children.

In the end, street children are a global issue that should be addressed and shouldn't be seen as something far away from home. It is a worldwide problem, for two distinct reasons. The first one is, quite simply, human dignity. Countries are failing and abandoning their most vulnerable inhabitants. If that argument fails, there are enough practical reasons why countries should take an interest in what is happening to their homeless children: I have given two examples above, the HIV epidemic and organized crime, but there are many more. So instead of just sweeping clean the streets (which in many cases has meant killing these children), countries should start looking for real solutions and give these children the social and psychological help they so desperately need.

 

Bibliography

Hooper, Simon. (2010, July 19) Eastern European street kids facing 'HIV epidemic'. Visited on 24 February 2014:

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/19/unicef.hiv.eastern.europe/index.html?eref=edition

Van Kemenade, Mijntje. (n.d.) Straatkinderen (Defence for Children). Visited on 24 February 2014:

http://www.defenceforchildren.nl/images/20/316.pdf

Theroux, Marcel. (2012, 16 May). Marcel Theroux: life with Ukraine's street children. Visited on 24 February 2014:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/16/marcel-theroux-ukraines-street-children

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). (2006, July 3) LEBANON: street children - victims of organised crime. Visited on 24 February 2014:

http://www.irinnews.org/report/27096/lebanon-street-children-victims-of-organised-crime

 

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