BOSASSO, (Somalilandpress) — A long civil war, frequent droughts, unemployment and high food prices have led to an increase in the number of street children in Bosasso, the commercial capital of Somalia’s self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, with NGOs and government officials calling for urgent steps to resolve the problem.
“In the past, most of the children on the streets of Bosasso were from south-central Somalia,” said Muse Ghele, governor of Bari region. “Now we are noticing more and more locals both from urban and rural areas.”
Between 4,500 and 5,500 children are on Bosasso’s streets, according to the governor.
Abdulaziz Mohamed Hamud, child protection consultant with OxfamNovib, told IRIN: “You have to understand that numbers of street children are estimates and could be even higher… There are no exact figures but the numbers seem to be increasing daily.”
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The children, according to Abdihakim Farah Arush, chairman of the Bari Child Protection Network (BCPN), fall into two categories: those who work to help their families, mostly local and internally displaced (IDPs) who go home at night; as well as those who sleep on the street, mostly substance abusers.
The reasons for the children being on the street vary, he said. Many of those from south-central Somalia were separated from their families on their way north while others end up on the streets to help their families, or fend for themselves.
Shoe-shining and car-washing, serving as porters or washing sacks in the market are the jobs of most of the street boys in Bosasso.
Arush said while most street children were boys, more and more girls were joining them, cleaning business premises or people’s homes. Some children as young as two or three were put on the streets to beg by desperate families.
Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN
|Abdullahi Said, 12, says he is trying to help his family|
Hamud of OxfamNovib said most of the children suffered abuse and physical violence. “Many of them have the scars as proof. On the street at night they are easy prey with no one to protect them.”
Many have been infected with “all sort of diseases, such as TB, skin diseases; while many others suffer from malnutrition. Most don’t know what they suffer from,” Hamud added.
Abdullahi Said, 12, is on the street because he has to help his mother with his three younger siblings. He collects garabo (leftover khat) and sells it to those who cannot afford the good khat or he shines shoes. On average, he takes home 30,000 Somali shillings (about US$1) a day.
“What I make from garabo and shining shoes is what I take home to help my mother feed us,” he told IRIN. Said’s father died in 2009 so the responsibility of helping his mother care for the family fell on him.
“My mother used to go to the market and do any job she could find but now she cannot even do that. She just had the baby,” he said.
There are no agencies that help the street children directly, said Hamud.
Arush’s agency is part of a child protection network in Puntland. “Unfortunately we cannot provide material support but we advocate for them and when we get information that they are in trouble we try to intervene,” Arush said.
Hamud said a lot more was needed to help the children. “First, serious assessments need to be carried out to determine the extent of the problem,” he said. Many of the older children were turning to crime. “They not only pose a security, but also a social, risk. We need to address their needs as a matter of great urgency.”
Legal intervention needed
He said Puntland should have a separate juvenile justice system to deal with child offenders. “Now, children arrested by the police end up in the same cells as adults, where they are vulnerable to abuse.”
He said those involved in child protection were trying to lobby the legislature for a Juvenile Justice Law, aimed at guaranteeing children’s rights, so that children would no longer be kept in jail with adults or tried in adult courts.
“Agencies and local authorities should do everything possible to provide them with an alternative to the streets.”
Governor Ghele said the authorities had identified a site to build a home for the children but did not have the financial resources to build and operate it. “We need a lot of support if we are going to put them in safe homes,” he said.
Source: IRIN, 9 March 2010