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Sudanese police promise softer approach to Khartoum street children

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Shehzad Noorani
Street child in Khartoum

By Simon Ingram

Khartoum, October 6, 2011: A more sensitive approach to dealing with the plight of Khartoum’s street children is to be adopted by the city’s police authorities as the result of a UNICEF-supported training course now being implemented in the Sudanese capital.

A first batch of 100 police officers and 20 social workers completed their training this week. In all, 1,300 officers will eventually undertake the programme, which is a collaboration between UNICEF and the Sudan Safety and Access to Justice Programme (SAJP) supported by the UK’s Department for International Development.

The initiative was a response to criticism of Khartoum police’s traditionally harsh treatment of children found on the streets, including the use of batons, arbitrary round-ups and lengthy confinement in institutions. Around 4,500 street children have been registered by the Ministry of Social Development, but some estimates put the actual figure considerably higher.
UNICEF’s offer of support to the Khartoum public order authorities followed the unexplained deaths earlier this year of a number of street children -- reportedly as a result of drinking contaminated alcohol.

“We know from other countries that punitive responses and harsh attitudes will push children living in the street to the margins of society,” said UNICEF child protection officer, Nahla Yousif.“We know from other countries that punitive responses and harsh attitudes will push children living in the street to the margins of society,” said UNICEF child protection officer, Nahla Yousif. “Ultimately this makes them more vulnerable to dangerous behaviors while continuing to deprive them of a loving family environment.”

A training module was developed to help police officers interact with street children in an entirely novel manner, thereby increasing the chance of finding long-term solutions to their problems and returning them to their families. The module was included in ongoing training being conducted by SAJP, the Police Training Department, Ministry of Social Development and Legal Aid- FCPU.

“In the past, we would see a street child as a walking crime and act accordingly,” said Lieutenant Adel Yakoub, one of the graduates from the training. “Now we see them as human beings with issues and problems which we can help solve.”

The trainees learned how to win the trust of youngsters they encounter through sessions at a Khartoum care institution, where children took a direct part in group discussions and other activities.

© Photo courtesy/2011/SAJP
Police Officers and street children interacted directly during the training

“Experience has taught us that using an iron fist against children in the streets achieves exactly the opposite result to that intended,” UNICEF Representative Nils Kastberg told a police graduation ceremony on Tuesday. “I hope this new approach will become something Sudan can export to other parts of the world.”

Bringing police and social workers together for the sessions reflected an understanding that children living and working in the street need their problems to be tackled individually, and not in a collective manner.

One sign of changing attitudes on the part of the authorities has been the sharp decline in the number of children being held at the Tybah street children care centre in Khartoum. Of 400 children held there in February, only 20 remain today, the rest having been successfully reunited with their families.



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