According to research, a combination of multiple factors such as poverty, neglect, breakdown of a family, losing one or both parents, and verbal, physical and sexual abuse drive children to a life on the street.
The problems associated with street children extend beyond the plight of the children themselves.The entire society is impoverished by the lost potential of street children and youth.In the long term, street children end up unskilled and jobless, often resorting to crime.
Promoting and fulfilling the rights and welfare of children is one of the most potent weapons to tackle the menace of street children.Cognizance of this, Child Protection Alliance (CPA) has been in the forefront in the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of children in The Gambia.
Njundu Drammeh, national coordinator of CPA, said street children are very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; they can be molested, bullied or even have an accident on the road.The girl child, especially, can be sexually abused.
For him, whatever reason that keeps children on the street “is not good enough”.
Mr Drammeh said allowing children on the street begging when they could go to school is a violation and nonfulfillment of their constitutional-guaranteed right to free basic compulsory education.
The Children’s Act as well has provided that children should be taken care of and be educated not to be left freely to be begging on the streets.
Apart from the violation of the children’s right to education, allowing children to be on the street is a denial of their right to family and guidance, the CPA coordinator said.
Presently, in The Gambia, there is no statistics on the number of street kids; no actual data to state whether the level is increasing or decreasing.
At least, Mr Drammeh said, there should be research to understand the magnitude of the problem.How many children are involved? What are the causes? Where are their parents?
Notwithstanding, the CPA has been creating programmes to boost the understanding of the rights of children, on the obligations that duty bearers have towards children, and to boost the understanding of parents on the dangers they expose children to by leaving them to go begging on the streets.
Mr Drammeh emphasised that the state, particularly the Department of Social Welfare, needs to do something about street children.
“Any parent or guardian who is sending kids on the street for begging on the name of poverty should know that it is not the child’s responsibility to take care of an adult or to go fend for the family,” he said.
“Parents should know that investing in child’s education has a greater and long term benefits to a family and to the child.An educated child can support the parents to break the cycle of poverty,” he added.
The child rights activist pointed out that the consequences of begging include teaching children that there is an easy shortcut to getting money; one can beg to have money.
“This makes children lazy as they would not attach any value to hard work,” he said.
The whole society should be ashamed when children are begging on the street because there could certainly be a way out – protecting and fulfilling the child’s rights.
Ramatoulie Kuyateh, a woman in her 40s, shared her ordeal as a mother with children on the street of Pipeline.She is the mother of a seven-year-old boy and a two-year-old daughter.
“In the morning, we go out together then I will go with the girl and the boy will go on his own begging.We go separately to different places and at the end of the day, we meet and go home,” the woman said while tears rolled from her eyes.
The mother said sometimes people used to ask her as to why she did not send the boy to school when government provided free basic education in public schools.
“But how can I afford the uniform, lunch and books when we have nothing to eat,” she said.“If the government can allocate a good place for me and the kids to settle or at least take care of the entire schooling of the kids, I will leave them to go to school because I want them to be educated like other children so as to have a better live for themselves tomorrow.”
She further said: “It is not my fault to be sitting here begging with my kids but sometimes situations force you to do such things.”