Conflict, drought and economic hardships have led to an unprecedented increase in the number of street children in Hargeisa, capital of Somalia’s self-declared independent republic of Somaliland, with government and aid agencies calling for urgent steps to stem the increase.
"Many of children on the streets of Hargeisa are from Mogadishu and other parts of south-central Somalia,” Sahardid Mohamed Osman, child protection and advocacy officer for Comprehensive Community-based Rehabilitation Services (CCBRS), a local NGO, told IRIN.
Saleebaan Ismail Bulale, chairman of Hornwatch, a local human rights group, estimated there were 3,000-5,000 children on the streets of Hargeisa.
"There are no exact figures but that is our estimate and numbers seem to be increasing," Bulale told IRIN on 21 October.
Osman said the children fell into three categories; those who work to help their families and go home at night; those who sleep on the streets; and, those who move from town to town.
The reasons for the children being on the street vary, Osman added. Many of those from south-central Somalia were separated from their families on their way to Somaliland, while others end up on the streets due to poverty and violence at home, he said.
Shoe-shining and car-washing are the jobs of choice for most of the street boys in Hargeisa, while the girls mostly clean or sweep business premises or clean people’s homes. Most beg, Osman said.
Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN
|Street children in Hargeisa|
While on the streets, many children often suffer abuse, violence and particularly sexual abuse. "Many of those… that sleep on street corners have been victims of sexual violence," Osman said. "On the street at night they are easy prey with no one to protect them."
Many have been infected with "all sort of diseases, including HIV/AIDS and they don't even know what that is," he added.
He said many of the street children had taken to tying a sack over the lower part of their bodies when sleeping at night. "It is an attempt to protect themselves."
Nasir Ahmed, 12, survives by washing cars. On average, he takes home 40,000 Somaliland shillings (about US$6.50) per day.
"What I make from washing cars is what my mother and sisters and I eat,” he told IRIN.
Ahmed’s father died in 2007, when the responsibility of caring for the family fell on him.
“My mother used to sell vegetables in the market but she was not making enough so I told her `I will do the work. You stay at home and take care of the girls’,” he said.
There are no agencies that deal with street children and provide aid to them, said Osman.
Osman’s agency, which is supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) among other agencies, is part of a child protection network in Somaliland. "Unfortunately we cannot provide material support but we provide psychological support, advocacy as well as community mobilisation,” Osman said.
More support needed
He said a lot more was needed to help the children.
"To know the scale of the problem, we need to have reliable figures and to do that a serious assessment needs to be done,” Osman said.
According to Denise Shepherd-Johnson, the chief of communication for UNICEF-Somalia, the agency has funded and provided technical support to CCBRS's interventions in child protection since 2005.
She said UNICEF and CCBRS identify vulnerable communities and then - through an extensive process of mobilisation using trained child protection advocates - help communities put in place systems that better protect their children.
Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN
|Children begging on the streets of Hargeisa|
"These systems range from ensuring the poorest and most vulnerable children have access to schooling and health services, that girls fetching water are protected from harassment and sexual violence, that families whose children are more susceptible to living on the streets are supported to keep their families together, or that disabled children are referred to special schools and support," Shepherd-Johnson said.
Ahmed Ali Asowe, Somaliland's minister of justice, told IRIN the government enacted a Juvenile Justice Law in March, aimed at guaranteeing children's rights.
This means that children will no longer be tried in adult courts as was the case in past, Asowe said.
The Somaliland government currently runs an orphanage that caters for about 400 children.
“Our capacity to help all the children on the streets is limited and unfortunately we are not getting any assistance from the international agencies,” Asowe said.