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Some estimates of street children run as high as 100 million – the truth is that no one really knows. Street children are some of the most marginalised and stigmatised children, experiencing persistent violations of their rights on a daily basis.
But they are also some of the most resilient and inspiring children and young people in the world. Every day they have to face violence, abuse and neglect, whilst struggling to survive.
“People would treat you badly. They’d say things like ‘go away’. They would say lots of things, but I don’t want to say what they said. It makes me feel bad because they don’t know how you feel and they don’t care either”, a street child in Ecuador said.
In 1993 Brazilian police killed eight street children sleeping on the steps of the Candelaria Church in Rio de Janeiro. The killing sparked international outrage and condemnation, leading to the UN General Assembly to pass street children specific resolutions to encourage national governments to support street children.
However, no concrete action was ever taken and in the past twenty years street children have become less and less frequent on international agendas and in some instances have completely disappeared. This is despite the continued presence of millions of street children in countries around the world.
This limited exposure on international stages has meant that national governments and bodies are less encouraged to take action.
Street children are a particularly complex group to address at policy-making levels – one child can experience a multitude of challenges. Common challenges include lack of access to basic services such as healthcare and education, being trafficked, prostitution, displacement due to conflict or natural disaster and often with little or no family contact. I
n essence, street children are not a homogenous population with similar experiences, and this makes them a difficult group to address coherently at policy-making levels. This has invariably meant that in many fora street children are forgotten.
The Consortium for Street Children (CSC) exists to change this and we have been campaigning for increased representation of street children at international levels.
One of the main barriers that we encounter and that street children face daily is the negative perceptions of them. The best way to counter this is to amplify the voices of street children themselves.
Street children’s opinions are vital to ensuring that the realities of their lives are understood and therefore that the support they receive is pertinent to their situation. In contradiction to the prevailing images of them, street children commonly identify themselves as strong, positive and engaged.
It is upon this basis that CSC launched the International Day for Street Children in 2011. The day provides a platform for the millions of street children around the world to speak out so their rights cannot be ignored. Since 2011 support for the Day has grown exponentially, with street children, NGOs, policy-makers, academics and celebrities getting involved.
This year, we are asking street children ‘If the whole world were listening, what would you say’? We are compiling these answers into an animation which will be released on the Day, 12th April, and profiling them through Twitter using #TweetForTheStreet, as well as encouraging individuals to tell us ‘what would you say’ on our dedicated Facebook tab.
The day is a perfect opportunity for street children to join together and tell their communities and the world what their lives are actually like. In 2013 CSC launched a campaign for the UN to officially adopt the Day. This will bring greater exposure, continuity and permanence of the issue and increase pressure on governments to act for street children – in much the same way that World Water Day and World AIDS Day have created policy-appetite around the world. The petition has received over 6000 signatories so far – but the more we have the faster UN recognition will come.
Street children first hit the international headlines because they were being killed in Brazil, but now Brazil is creating a national policy specifically on street children. Show your support and encourage other governments to take similar action by signing the petition for UN recognition. A UN day will ensure that street children are not overlooked again.
For more information please go to: http://www.streetchildrenday.org.
Louise Meincke is advocacy director of the Consortium for Street Children
For more stories about street children visit trust.org's spotlight "Street children - the hidden crisis"