Parliamentarians and traditional leaders commit to tackle homeless children issue in Burkina Faso
By Priscilla Ofori-Amanfo with contribution from Sylvana Nzirorera
Ouagadougou, 1st August 2011. “Call for urgent actions in favour of street children” was the theme for the Day of the African Child on 16 June 2011. The African Union brought the issue of the millions of children living on the streets of the continent to the forefront of member states’ agenda.
In response to this “call for action”, UNICEF in Burkina Faso organized a two-day National Advocacy Forum on street children on 28 July 2011. The meeting brought together more than 160 people among them parliamentarians, civil society organizations, key ministries, mayors, traditional, community and religious leaders, child parliamentarians and development partners.
The objectives of the forum were to bring to the attention of all stakeholders the increasing phenomenon and problems confronted by children living and working on the streets of the major cities of Burkina Faso. Appropriate approaches to assist these children, their rehabilitation and reinsertion in their families and communities were also discussed. It was also very important to mobilize traditional, religious and community leaders to play their role of mobilizing parents, families and communities on their responsibilities on child rights, especially with regards to children who have reasons to be pushed onto the streets.
The reasons why children end up living on the streets in urban areas of Burkina Faso are varied. Triggers often include the breakdown of the family unit (lack of parental responsibility, marriage or relationship break-up, death of parents). These causes are underpinned by poverty due to high levels of unemployment, price rises and the lack of resources and health and school infrastructures, particularly in rural areas.
Sometime ago in African communities, the prevailing concept of extended family and community were very supportive of each other. Thus, all children could find a place in the community, as there was always a family member, however distant the family relation, to grant asylum and protection. But nowadays, there is increasingly a lack of community responsibility towards these children. Children who have been orphaned or abused can no longer rely on other members of the community.
“I would like to launch a solemn appeal to you traditional, religious and community leaders to use your influence, charisma and power that you have culturally inherited from your ancestors, to reinforce child protection mechanisms at community level through this tradition of extended family which has always prevailed in Africa”, said Ms. Sylvana Nzirorera, Deputy Representative and Officer-in-Charge for UNICEF Burkina Faso at the opening of the forum. “In fact, every child has the right to claim for better protection, care and greater fulfilment in his or her own community”, she added.
More than 6,000 children are sleeping rough or are desperately trying to carve out a living on the streets of Burkina Faso according to a study on children living on the streets carried out by UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity in November 2010. Some of these children are as young as five, many have been on the streets for up to three years and most of them have never received any form of education. The majority of children trying to earn a living on the streets sleep under a roof at night (83 per cent), with 40 per cent sleeping in Koranic hostels or institutions. However, children living in institutions are often forced to beg in the streets by the very same adults who are responsible for their welfare. With no parents or family members to turn to for support, these children are often left vulnerable to abuse, violence and prostitution.
In his song composed for the occasion of the Advocacy Forum, the famous 32-year-old Burkinabe singer Floby, who used to live on the streets said, "being a street child is not a fatality". Having never known neither his mother nor father, he grew up with his grandmother who died when he was 17. That was when he began living on the street, begging, but also to singing about his experience. "The street doesn’t give birth to children, but it trains them to be strong!"
The National Advocacy Forum on Children Living on the Streets was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso, and will pave the way for future coordinated interventions and actions both at the villages of origin where many of these children come from, and in the reinsertion programmes of those already on the street.
Leaders of the Muslim community committed to continue advocacy at all levels in order to achieve the objectives of the reform of Koranic schools and to ensure general awareness of parents, teachers of the Koran on child rights, including the right to education. The parliamentarians pledged to defend better budget allocation for the Ministries in charge of Social Affairs and Education, in order to facilitate access to these facilities. “We will also consider favorably any bills related to the issue of children on the streets”, said Honorable Ms. Aissata Sidibe, President of the Parliamentarian Commission for Child Rights.
“I am sure we can succeed if we combine and coordinate our efforts and actions”, said Ms. Nzirorera. “We can prevent migration of children from their villages by encouraging their families to engage in income generating activities to improve their life conditions, and other stakeholders to facilitate access to education for all children, even those in remote areas”.