Neglected plight of street children to be addressed in Greater Bahr-el-Ghazal region
Exposure to the elements. Constant insecurity. Sometimes feeling forced to steal or sell sex to survive. Living on the streets is challenging, even more so for children.
“Every single day is a struggle to survive. I collect empty plastic bottles and sell them to shops in Wau town. Last month I managed to save 100,000 South Sudanese pounds (190 USD), but someone stole my money when I was sleeping and now I have to start all over again, says 10-year-old Achol (not his real name).
Achol, who left his home in 2019, is saving money to fulfill a modest aspiration.
“I understand how getting an education could change my life. I dream of going to school and join my friends there, but my parents can’t afford it,” he says, adding that for him the difficult and dangerous life on the streets is less bad than staying at home.
Achol is hardly the only child street dweller in Wau town. Local authorities estimate them to be between 1,000 and 1,200. More often than not, they suffer in silence, with their plight being neglected.
For this reason, the Child Protection Unit of the UN Mission in South Sudan recently invited representatives from the ministries of Gender, Child and Social Welfare in the four states of the Greater Bahr-el-Ghazal region to a forum to discuss the issue of how best to assist street children in this part of the country.
“These children are from here or are coming from neighbouring states. It breaks my heart to see some of the girls turning to prostitution, selling themselves to older men to survive,” said Ann Daniel, Director General of the Ministry of Gender in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal State. “We all need to help them.”
Sam Muhumure, head of the peacekeeping mission’s field office in Wau, agreed with her reasoning.
“In an African context, it is not just the biological parents who are responsible for raising a child. It is a community task, and it involves the government as well,” he said, stressing that the UNMISS mandate to protect civilians particularly mentions the need to keep vulnerable groups, like street children, out of harm’s way.
Lina (not her real name) is one of the girls living on the streets of Wau town. She is 16 years old, and lacking skills needed to find some sort of job she has to find other ways to feed herself.
“I am not a thief, but when I don’t have anything to eat, I’m forced to steal something. When it happens, I feel guilty and promise myself not to do it again, but it’s difficult,” she says.
But how can Lina, Achol and their homeless peers be helped? Forum participants agreed on one thing: it will take a collective effort, involving local communities, state and national governments and international donors and other partners to improve the lot of the street population. Comprehensive child protection policies, they concluded, are needed at all levels, as is advocating together for them to formulated and implemented.
More specific ideas from the forum included the creation of more child-friendly spaces like playgrounds and recreational centres, an adequate school-feeding programme, and special boarding schools for orphans. Empowering families financially, not least traditionally home-bound women, by means of offering them vocational and entrepreneurial trainings was also suggested.
At the end of the gathering, it was agreed that a specific workplan is to be elaborated and submitted to the Council of Ministers and the legislative assembly for approval.
“A holistic approach is needed. United we stand, divided we fall,” said Migyikra Erasmus, a Child Protection Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission, summing up the daunting task ahead.