What comes to your mind when you see a street child? For many of us, we view them as victims of circumstances or even delinquents. But rarely do we look at them as having rights worth protecting. These are children forced to the streets due to diverse circumstances. Be it poverty, family breakdowns, neglect by parents, their orphaned status or the attractive lavish life of the city. Whatever their reasons are, they find themselves on the streets, either living or working, left to fend for themselves at a tender age.
These children are exposed to high levels of violence and abuse. They are physically, emotionally or sexually abused negatively impacting their development. They have grown up with no or little food to eat, have no parents or if they are in the picture, most of them are living miserable lives in destitution. Most of their friends suffer the same fate. They lack basic necessities, have little or no access to health facilities.
Every child has an inherent right to life thus every government and parent bears the onus of ensuring the survival and development of the child. This includes the safeguarding and promotion of the rights and welfare of the child. Any institution while exercising its powers as conferred to it in relation to the child shall be guided by the principle that the best interests of the child are paramount.
All children irrespective of their economic status, race, religion, language, sex, nationality, social origin or disability have the same rights which should be protected by the government. Our constitution in Article 53 states that each child has a right to free and compulsory basic education, shelter, basic nutrition and shelter. They should be protected from abuse, neglect harmful cultural practices as well as all forms of violence.
These rights pertain to every child including those living or working in the streets. In reality, many of these children in the streets are deprived of these rights. They are subjected to violence, cannot access basic education and lack parents who will look after their welfare. While on the streets, most people tend to forget that these children have rights too. They might be victims of circumstances, but this does not erase the fact that they are entitled to certain rights.
Being treated as a right-holder is the greatest challenge that these children face. If we all recognised them as such, then stereotyping or stigmatization of these kids will reduce by a significant proportion. We will then strive to ensure that their rights are upheld and in the process of which we shall seek for the provision of basic needs for these children. Kenya Children Legal Aid Work (KCLAW) a department within AFCIC is geared towards the safeguarding and promotion of the rights of street children.
The next time you see a street child with rugged clothes and looking hungry, ask yourself what little thing you can do to ensure the protection of that child’s rights.