Today in Sierra Leone the exact figures of street connected children remain difficult to determine. According to Consortium for Street Children (2003), research shows 1,625 to 3,000 children living on the streets, with many facing extreme poverty or forced to working in hazardous conditions to survive. But thanks to the tireless work of our local partner organisation HANCI, social justice may one day become a reality for the Sierra Leone's street connected children. That is children who face a multiple denial of human rights through their harsh existence of living and working on the streets.
Civil war in Sierra Leone: 10 years onJanuary 18th marked the 10 year anniversary of the end of Sierra Leone's civil war but unfortunately the conflict still continues to have an impact on the most vulnerable children in society. During the war, family bonds were often severely damaged with many girls abducted and boys driven to serve as child soldiers. In the war's aftermath, many children had to live on the streets rather than return home due to their association with the rebels and the stigma they faced in their home towns.
According to Bledsoe (1990) it is a culturally held belief, in Sierra Leone, that a child "cannot advance or become an adult without undertaking arduous labour even if it entails physical abuse." It is therefore still seen as normal when many of the street boys that HANCI works with are involved in manual labour. Many street girls are exploited, often beaten and sometimes even raped.
Children sleep under bridges or in abandoned cars and many die from pneumonia due to the poor conditions they live under. While the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child argues that states have an obligation to ensure that child victims receive appropriate treatment and support for their recovery and social integration, street connected children are denied the most basic human rights of shelter, health, education and protection in Sierra Leone.
Securing street children's basic rightsSince 2004 ChildHope has been working alongside local partner organisation HANCI to support vulnerable street boys and girls in Sierra Leone. Our most recent project offers these children access to formal education, life-skills training, vocational training and apprenticeships enabling them to thrive and offering the girls and boys chance of securing future employment, counselling, shelter, food and health care help them to rebuild their lives.
The project also ensures teenagers with babies, who previously have faced considerable stigma, have been able to return to school and allowed to learn and express their thoughts like other children.
"I thank HANCI for transforming my life which was going to be miserable for forever. I thank HANCI for bringing hope, peace of mind and a feeling of self esteem to my life. There is no turning back from the path on which HANCI has put me"
Kadiatu, blind girl beneficiary of the project in Makeni
Keeping children off the streets through advocacyHANCI recognised the need to confront cultural taboos and to bring an end the daily stigma faced by street children. Stigmatisation and discrimination of children have been addressed in Sierra Leone by increasing the community awareness of the need to protect children from the dangers faced on the streets. Children also need to be able to protect themselves through the acquisition of knowledge and by sharing issues affecting them with other children.
Fewer children now end up to the streets, as parents are more sensitive to addressing the causes that forced their children to run away in the past.
There has also been an improvement in reporting child abuse in the areas where HANCI works. By educating communities and professionals working with street children about their rights to quality education and child protection, HANCI has helped stimulate initiatives that help to alleviate the harsh realities for street connected children.
"When I saw Mommy next she had already given birth to a daughter of her own. HANCI came to talk to me 3 times to reconcile me with and my daughter but I ignored them. After building up more trust I did eventually agree to accept Mommy back into the family. I am glad that HANCI were good enough to come out to my village to let me know how my daughter was doing. HANCI had promised to ensure Mommy could return to school, which they've done. I am very proud of how well Mommy is doing at school."
Yan, Mother of Mommy now 18 years oldIn Sierra Leone our project with local partner organisation HANCI demonstrates that in order to achieve social justice for all children, advocating for the rights of street children is just as important as providing for their basic human needs.