Street children: issues and impact
It might be hard to tell how many children are living on the street in Egypt, but one thing is clear--the numbers are very large and almost certainly growing. With the difficulty of quantifying the phenomenon, NGOs estimate that at least tens of thousands of street children in the country, most of them in the cities of Cairo and Alexandria.
These children lead an unhealthy and often dangerous life that leaves them deprived of their basic needs for protection, guidance, and supervision and exposes them to different forms of exploitation and abuse. For many, survival on the street means begging and sexual exploitation by adults.
World Health Organization studies show that street children suffer from health problems ranging from cholera to tuberculosis and anemia, and that they are exposed to a variety of toxic substances, both in their food and in the environment around them. They are also at risk of various kinds of abuse. In a survey in 2000, 86 percent of street children identified violence as a major problem in their life. In another survey, 50 percent stated that they had been exposed in some manner to rape.
UNICEF is working with NGOs such as Hope Village Society, CARITAS and the Egyptian Association for the Protection of Children in Alexandria and Qena to improve the lives of street children and to educate and empower individual boys and girls. The project is being implemented through reception centers targeting street children.
The centres, set up to deal specifically with the problems faced by street children, provide them with meals and the space to rest or engage in recreational activities.
UNICEF supports the centres by training social workers on the rights of children and the risks that the children face on the street, and also by providing training directly to the children themselves through the social workers. The centres also provide health services ranging from check-ups to hospital referrals.
A number of the children at the centres are trained to act as “mentors” to other children living on the street. The children are trained to understand and deal with the potential health threats of living on the street, and then pass this information on to their peers on the street.
In another initiative implemented by CARITAS and four other NGOs in Cairo and Alexandria, street children are encouraged to reflect on their lives and to express their thoughts and hopes about their future. The children do this in a creative, participatory manner by compiling pictures, drawings, poems and stories which are to be published in the “White Book of Our Future”.
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