THE perspective of sociologists on the issue of street connected children indicates that this situation arises due to the lack of stability in our family caregiving systems and, to a large extent, in our social caregiving systems.
These are the results of the failure of the family institution and other supporting institutions in nurturing children, such as religion, culture (traditions and customs), economics, and so forth.
According to the structural-functionalism theory, these are also the outcomes of the failure of a certain part of the social system.
Governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and social experts should raise awareness about the problems faced by street-connected children worldwide. Through concerted efforts by governments, human rights organizations, and advocates for the rights of street-connected children, these children can be rescued from the streets, their behavior can be corrected, and they can be placed in loving and protective homes (with parents or alternative caregivers, such as trusted individuals, relatives, etc.).
In addition to finding them safe homes, the goal is also to educate them, provide them with medical care, psychosocial support services (PSS), and teach them life skills for a better future (restoring hope and transforming their lives). Street-connected children are children just like any other in society.
They are our children who need careful attention and support because it is true that the streets are not safe for their present and future well-being and development. For example, children living and working on the streets in Tanzania are children who are highly mobile and resilient, as their needs and circumstances change frequently due to various internal and external factors within our country.
Despite significant efforts from various stakeholders, including the government, human rights organizations, civil society organizations, and others, the issue of street-connected children remains a puzzle.
Substantial efforts have been made to reduce this problem, but, to a large extent, they have not yielded the expected results of completely eradicating this issue.
When we discuss the challenge of the increase or presence of street-connected children, we must ask ourselves, what are the professional strategies and methods being employed to reduce this problem? Undoubtedly, there is a great need for extensive research that can assess the magnitude of the problem and identify the appropriate solutions.
If we closely examine the work of many stakeholders involved with street-connected children, we find that they often employ similar methods to address this challenge.
However, the problem continues to evolve with new social challenges and issues emerging daily, which differ from those of the past.
Conducting regular research to find precise solutions to this issue is more crucial than we might think. The reasons that led children to live and work on the streets in the 1990s cannot be equated to the circumstances of today. Indeed, the increase in social, economic, and political issues has significantly contributed to new reasons for the growing number of street-connected children.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the government and all stakeholders working closely with street-connected children to consider conducting fundamental research in the area of street-connected children.
By doing so, we can collectively find accurate answers and seek the right path to completely eradicate this problem. Many children leave their homes due to the deaths of their parents and various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological, and neglect. When parents pass away, some children face hostility and are unable to receive basic support and care from their relatives, leading them to seek refuge on the streets.
Others flee their homes due to extreme poverty, believing they will find economic opportunities on the streets through activities such as selling bags/packaging, begging, and theft.
Some children are also rejected by their families due to factors such as disability or are forced into criminal activities. They are exploited and abused for sustenance.
Regardless of their location, street-connected children are often deprived of education, healthcare, and other fundamental human rights According to the Consortium for Street Children, an international network of over 100 organizations, “street-connected children are children who rely on the street for their living and working, and those who have significant experience in public places such as markets, bus stations, commercial areas, and recreational areas.” It has been discovered that street-connected children are among the most marginalzed and least protected in the world.
They are often excluded, unloved, and undervalued. Furthermore, their situation is made more difficult by society’s negative attitudes towards them, leading to discrimination and their being deemed unacceptable, which creates an unsafe environment for them.
They are also subjected to exploitation and involvement in illegal activities, including crime, theft, and child labor. Street-connected children are often targeted by law enforcement, subjected to physical abuse, detained, and prosecuted without due process. Existing policies, institutions, and communities tend to exclude street children and deny them their fundamental human rights.
Street life exposes children to numerous risks and deprives them of comfort and security. A team of professionals (social workers and others) is required to educate society about the need to end discrimination and make the world a safe and friendly place for every child living on the streets.
Children like these are already in danger, which can make them even more vulnerable to violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues. To cope with the harsh realities of street life, such as stress, illness, hunger, stigma, and discrimination, some children may resort to drug use (marijuana, glue, heroin, alcohol) as a way to escape the pain.
Drug use at a young age, when children are still growing physically and mentally, can lead to long-term problems in their adult lives.
Therefore, we should “Keep Street-Connected Children Safe.” A call to governments, human rights organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs), and other advocates for children’s rights and community well-being is to wake up and stand up firmly to advocate for the rights and safety of street-connected children
The following can be implemented:
First, Child stakeholders, including the government, should refrain from using force to remove street-connected children from various areas. Instead, they should utilize their professionals (social welfare officers) who have the expertise to work effectively with this group of children.
Second, Collaborate with stakeholders, organizations, and institutions working with street-connected children, such as SOS Children Village, Amani Center for Street Children, Railway Children Africa, Baba Watoto, and others, to address the challenges faced by these children.
Third, strengthen the economic capacity of poor and vulnerable families through the TASAF fund to engage in small-scale business activities that can generate income and improve their livelihoods, thereby reducing the number of street-connected children due to poverty. Fourth, engage religious and cultural leaders in providing moral and parental education aimed at emphasizing their responsibilities in childcare.
Fifth, Strengthen laws and protection policies to safeguard street-connected children. As outlined in the Guidelines for Other Children, the government has established a Children’s Council to serve as a platform for children to voice their opinions.
The government should also consider establishing a Street-Connected Children Platform from the grassroots level to the national level to serve as their official feedback mechanism.
Utilizing children’s opinions and suggestions (Child-Centered Approach) may significantly reduce or completely eliminate this problem. Sixth, Conduct regular research to reflect the current state of this issue in order to provide accurate answers and effective solutions.
Seventh, establish a solid foundation for child upbringing within families to reduce the number of children who end up on the streets due to poor family values. Eighth, promote a culture of love and care within families and communities for children who have been orphaned or are living with extended family members after the death or illness of their parents. Ninth, Families should be a safe haven for children, free from all forms of violence.
Other possible approaches include
First, reverting to the old system of community upbringing, where children are considered part of the community and are corrected and nurtured by the community as a whole. This method was used to instill good behavior and values in children, resulting in a better generation within the community.
Second, Families should strengthen themselves economically by joining savings and loan groups (VICOBA), enrolling in the government’s program to support poor households (TASAF), and participating in groups that benefit from loans provided by local authorities.
This will help them escape extreme poverty and afford the basic needs for their children. Third, collaborate with the government to explore better ways of working with street-connected children.
Fourth, Initiate projects aimed at working with street-connected children to economically and socially support them and their families, thereby reducing the number of street-connected children.
Fifth, utilize their professionals to work with street-connected children and their families to provide specialized education with the goal of reducing the number of street-connected children. Sixth, Build the capacity of and strengthen families economically so that they can provide for the basic needs of their children.
Seventh, collaborate with the government in conducting research that assesses this issue in order to develop appropriate strategies and solutions. Let us join together to ensure that street-connected children are protected, safe, and granted their fundamental rights, just like any other children. Remember that “The street doesn’t give birth to children; let’s be responsible.”
The writer currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work at the Open University of Tanzania, can be reached via 764 002 024 ,is on a mission to make a positive impact in the society.