International Day for Street Children- A message from Gert J Jonker, CEO, The Bethany House Trust

Challenging Perceptions:

“Across the globe there are large numbers of children surviving on the streets- it’s time we all took action to address this issue.

It is estimated that worldwide more than 120 million children live and work on the streets. In South Africa the problem is very evident. No clear figure of the exact number of the street children however exist. Reliable estimations puts the number puts the number between 3 000 and 4 000. In the West Rand region demographic surveys identify in the region of 60 to 70 children living and worjing on the streets. The actual number is much higher in all probability.

Whether they are a runaway from Derby or a street child in Krugersdorp, the factors that drive children to the streets are similar. These include family breakdown, poverty and violence. One of the greatest challenges faced by a street child is being recognized and treated as someone without rights. We must recognize that a street child has the same potential as any other child and, given the opportunity. Although street children are vulnerable to the dangers of life on the street, they are also resilient and resourceful. Street children see themselves as able to make a positive contribution to society despite often negative attitudes towards them.

We are calling for government and society to to join together and stand up for the rights of street children all over the world. Being a street child is not a crime! Heavy handed treatment by authorities- such as violence and round-ups- is all too common and must be stamped out. Rather than treat them as criminals, authorities should understand the reasons for street children’s behavior and provide support.

In it’s resolution 16/12 adopted on 24 March 2011 the Human Rights Council invites the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a study on challenges, lessons learnt and best practices in a holistic, child rights and gender based approach to protect and promote the rights of children working and/ or living on the street , including practices in the collection of disaggregated data and experiences on access to child friendly counseling, complaint and reporting mechanisms to protect the rights of children living and/ or working on the streets.

The resolution requests that the study of be conducted in close collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including States, UNICEF and other United Nations bodies and agencies, the Special Representitive of the Secretaty-General on Violence against children, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and other relevant special procedures mandate holders, regional organizations, civil society, national human rights institutions and children themselves and to present it to the March 2012 session of the Human Rights Council.

Add your voice to stand up for the rights of street children all over the world! These children face a daily struggle to survive. Being a street child is not a crime!

In Krugersdorp on the West Rand, the IKUSASA Commuity Development Centre provides specialized services to children living and working on the street. IKUSASA- a Zulu word meaning “tomorrow”- provides full residential care, offers daily meals and the use of a drop-in centre with a fully eqipped internet cafe and gymnasium for children not in the residential care program, and access to schooling/ skills development programs. A team of social work professionals addresses therapeutic needs and help with family reintegration.

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