POVERTY AND STREET CHILDREN.
Introduction and definition.
Poverty is the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.
According to the World Bank, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing your child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.”
Poverty, in layman’s language, is not having enough to meet basic needs of a person.
Street children are poor or homeless children living on the streets of a city, town or village.
UNICEF defines street children as boys and girls under 18 years for whom the street, including unoccupied dwellings and wastelands has become home and/or their source of livelihood and who are inadequately protected or supervised.”
Poverty is the leading cause of this phenomenon. Children living in poverty are more likely to have poor physical health, mental health problems, poor academic performance, security issues, face stigma and bullying, truancy among others. This are the greatest contributors to the issue of street children.
Most of the former street children, who we have spoken to, name poverty as the main reason why they started working the streets or rather the streets started working them.
Poverty and education
Andrew (not his real name) says that he could not bear the suffering at home and that’s why he chose to seek life in the streets to escape the abject poverty.
“My parents are separated. Before I joined the streets, I used to live with my mother and my younger brother. My mother is a casual laborer who struggled hard to make ends meet. We lived from hand to mouth. My brother and I attended the local primary school. The last class I attended was grade five. When I was to join grade six, we were required to buy books to use in the new class but my mother did not have the money. The initial plan was that I stay at home, as mom tried to get the money and buy the books but it became hard as we had to eat too. It is hard to stay at home while you live in the slums so I joined a group of other boys and we would go to the streets and come home in the evening and that’s where I met with the social worker who rescued me.”
Andrew’s case depicts how poverty contributed to not having equal access to education as the other children and how being away from school, where his mind could be engaged, led him to the streets. Poverty deprives these children education which is a right of every child not that education should be free. John, also not his real name, has a similar case to that of Andrew.
“I am eight years old. My parents are separated and I lived with my mother and my two siblings in Mathare slum in Nairobi. I have never set foot in a classroom. My mother and I had been begging in the streets. At the end of the day, I would give the all money I had collected to my mother who would combine it to buy food for us.
Poverty and abuse
Poverty has also contributed to child abuse, which in return pushes the child to run away from home in search of a safe place. Sadly, most of the children escaping abuse end up in the street. Poverty leads to stress in adults especially to parents with children who are dependent on them. More so, when the said person is an unemployed single parent with more than one child to feed. It becomes particularly hard for the faint hearted to treat their children right. A parent who hopes to gets a casual job on a particular day would end up disappointed if that did not happen. When he/she remembers that there are children waiting at home. Such a parent would sometimes consciously or sub-consciously take it out on his/her children. Most times this could be through physical or psychological abuse. Some children go to the extent of forcing older children into child labor in order for them to increase the family income.
John tells us that his mother would beat him up if he did not make enough money begging.
“I was always afraid to go home at the end of the day if I had not made enough money as this would always lead to a confrontation with my mother. She would ask me to give her the money that I had made and always got angry if the money was less.” Says John.
In a conversation with Mike, a former street boy, he reveals to us that he ran away from home after a fight with his father over water.
“My family lives in a village. Due to the water shortage, the whole village draws water from the same well. It is hard for one to access water at certain times of the day, especially in the evening when everyone is in line to get the water. One day my father asked me to fetch water but there was a big line at the well, I suggested to him that I do so later when the traffic had subsided. This triggered anger in him and he beat me up and eventually chased me away. That’s how I got to the streets.”
Poverty has also contributed largely to drug abuse especially alcohol as it is cheap. Speaking to Ben, also not his real name, he says that poverty pushed his father into drug addiction as a means of escaping. He would get drunk and take it out on his son.
“My mother passed on when I was young. My father has since remarried. He is a drug addict and he used to beat me up every time he got drunk. I got scared of him and decided to run away and went to the streets.”
-post by Edith