Government on the spot as street children cry out for help Print

childrencryBy Agele Benson

Day of the street child? The 12th April 2011 was the international day of the street child but, in much of South Sudan, soon to be the world’s newest state, it has passed without notice or official acknowledgement, save for a local charity in Yei which organized an event to highlight the social and economic magnitude of the problem.

The Network for Education and Empowerment Services (NEES) runs a centre to help street children and assembled a group of street kids who have been given a ray of hope for the future after years of coping with poverty and illiteracy.

Jamila Sitima, a 17 year old girl, praised the charity for transforming her. “We are six in our family. I lost my father and then had to drop out of school. I used to wash plates in restaurants but I am now happy to be back at school, thanks to NEES,” Sitima stated.

Sitima’s worry now is about her other two sisters who roam the streets from one end to the other, doing “dirty jobs” such as washing utensils, where they are paid SDG 3 daily, while her three brothers are out of school as well. “My brothers survive on selling used clothes on behalf of retailers”. Sitima said that their problems started when, “my mother married another man and they don’t care for us. Our stepfather hates us.”

Sitima is very bitter about the situation and cannot forgive her mother for marrying a second husband after their father died. “I call her my mother only because she gave birth to me. She has deprived us of motherly love. I know my mother is poor but I have wanted love from her, not to take another man who abhors us.”

Meanwhile, Onzima Saddiq, a 14 year old boy who also has lost his father, was excited to enroll in school. Saddiq wishes that more schools could be opened to help other children like himself who cannot afford to pay school fees. “Without NEES I was going to remain illiterate and more useless,” he said.

He is now in grade five but still vends old clothes in the market after classes to support his younger brothers. “I sell used clothes to buy food and soap to help my brothers when my mother fails to make enough money from her small business selling beans,” he explained.

Another 14 year old, Abraham Ayume, starts his day as a taxi conductor and ends it in pubs, and was not sure when he will be able to resume his studies, although he is making SDG 10 a day. “I left my father’s house because he failed to pay my school fees. I want to go to school but, my father prefers drinking, and he spent the money I was making on alcohol, while my mother is poor and cannot afford to pay my school fees. I do not want to go back”, he said. Ayume helps support his mother with the money he earns.

Despite the grim picture he portrays about his education future, Ayume says he hopes to resume classes when he can find someone to sponsor him. However, his immediate relatives do not want to help. “My uncles say they will not help me because my father spends his money on drink instead of supporting us,” explains Ayume.

The number of kids living on the streets has mushroomed in the past five years of the peace agreement due to the two decades of war and unprecedented economic decline which has impacted negatively on families. There is no official count on the number of children who are currently on the streets but the Programme Director for the Christian Youth Development Agency (CYDA), Gismala Bernard, said the population is swelling every day. Apart from decades of war and economic hardship, Mr. Bernard also attributed the increasing number of kids on the street to lack of care for orphans, people having too many children and polygamy. To overturn the tide, Bernard called on the government to offer free education and free feeding in schools.

According to the Programme Coordinator for NEES, Dilli Emmanuel, there are 155 street kids in their centre alone, ranging from 7 to 17 years.  The NEES Programme Manager, Esther Amuna, stated they are struggling to cope and cannot feed and educate the children adequately. Esther and Dilli urged the government to do more to help street children, if the future of the fledgling country is to be bright.