COMTEX Newswire - InterPress Service
19 February 1997

For Some, the Street Is Better ...

KHARTOUM - Some 216 children who lived on the streets of the capital here were reunited this month with their families. But to the dismay of social workers, the majority of girls and boys roaming the city's pavement refused to go home.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Social Planning, some children say that they do not have relatives or parents to return to, while others have threatened to boycott feeding centers sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) if they are forced to go home.

Sudan's government signed an agreement in January with UNICEF to initiate a family reunification project. The agreement aims to return some 2,000 children, the majority of whom are boys, to their families.

According to the agreement, UNICEF will contribute $50,000 as the major donor, Oxfam U.K., $20,000, and Redd Barna, the Norwegian Save the Children Organization, $17,000. Some of the funds will be used to feed the children at designated camps set up in the city until they are returned to their homes.

Armed conflict, drought and famine have led to a mass displacement of the Sudanese population, leaving many children either separated from their families or orphaned. Most of these children find their way to the capital and other major cities where they try to eke out a living on the streets.

But some of the boys and girls, who are in the camps set up for children here, have no desire to return home and prefer their life on the streets, a social worker here said.

The social worker, who asked not to be named, said that many of the children no longer know how to live with others in a family, and that it is difficult to reintegrate them back into school.

"Our aim was to send them to schools, but many of them are too old to join primary schools," the social worker explained. "But they cannot be sent to vocational institutes as planned by UNICEF, because they have not started or completed primary education, which is a precondition in the vocational institutes."

The search for the children's families also has not been easy. Many of the children give wrong information and others "are unable to give the useful information about their families and the families don't bother to look for their children in the streets," she added.

Last December, for example, when one 16-year-old boy's father came to camp to take him home, the boy refused to go and denied that the man was his father, the social worker said. The matter was referred to the court and blood tests were ordered. But the boy ran away from the camp before the court reached a decision.

According to the social worker, the boy left home to escape an abusive step-mother, and he cannot stay with his mother, who has remarried a man who does not want her children around.

Dr. Aman el Badri of Afhad Women's University in Omdurman, near the capital city, said that the situation of street children had reached a "crisis point" and called on the government, local and international organizations to work together to find a solution.

Rather than start a family reunification project, Aman said there is a need for family solidarity to tackle the root issues which send children away from homes and into the streets.

Planners also must step up family planning awareness and education programs, Aman added, because many children are born into poor families where they are unwanted or where there are not enough resources for their care. "There is no birth control in the poor communities," Aman said.

Sudanese officials also must confront the growing problem of children born on the streets.

Young girls on the streets exchange sex for food and money, and many become pregnant, said Dr. Monica Phillip, who added that at least two to three babies are abandoned daily at the Khartoum North Teaching Hospital.

Copyright 1997

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