DON BOSCO HOMES AND STREET CHILDREN
For some children the streets are where they look to find their home, their parents, their playground, their education, their health care, and their love. For others, the streets are where they work, from as early as sunrise to as late as midnight. To be street children is the plight of so many young people in the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia.
Don Bosco Homes in Liberia has worked for Monrovia's street, since 1992. At present we are in contact with some 500 street children. Our outreach workers visit twenty police depots daily to intervene on behalf of juveniles in jail. In a country where there are virtually no state-run juvenile correction centres, the situation is getting worse as more take to the streets. But who are these street children?
Categories of Street Children
Nobody actually knows the total number of street children in town; but some say they number around 3,000. As mentioned in the introduction Monrovia's street children can be broadly placed into two groups: working street children and children that live on the streets. Working street children comprise those who leave home in the morning to sell and then return home in the evening. These children are, in many instances, sent by their parents or relatives to earn money for the running of the home.
The second category, the children that live in the streets, comprises those who ‘work’ and live there. They do some contracts of fetching water or washing dishes at cookery shops, and carrying short-distance loads for people; they steal and are involved in other forms of "hustle". They sleep in unfinished buildings, market stalls, old cars, football pitches and any ‘safe’ places they can find. They are largely self-supervised, although in rare cases they have a group leader. In Monrovia you will find these children on the streets up to between 11 pm. and 1 am.
Causes of Street Children
The unemployment status of many parents, peer pressure, unwillingness to submit to parental control, parental neglect leading to children running away are some of the many factors leading to children being in the streets. "But most of the time when we trace their parents, it is pathetic to see the poverty of the homes they come from. Many families just don't have the means to support their children," says Joe Hena, Welfare Co-ordinator of Don Bosco Homes. Taking some children back home is often not the best solution, "but as a rule. since we believe that the family settings are the best places for children to grow up, we take them home." Their ages often range between eight and fourteen, although this age group is sometimes lower or higher.
Effects of Street Life
Our social workers remind us that the negative impact of street life on children is enormous. Many street children lack basic rights such as education, family love, healthcare, good food, and safety. Other disadvantages include exposure to drugs, the risk of being knocked down by cars, harsh punishment for little offences, the early arrival of adulthood, association with the wrong people and criminals, and loss of family ties. Another big problem is exploitation. Joe Hena says “Children are sometimes exploited by adults who hire them to work for wages payable at the end of the month, but often the contracts are terminated before the end of the month without good reason and the children remain unpaid,”
The Intervention of Don Bosco Homes
In Don Bosco Homes, to be in contact with a street child means the child benefits from Don Bosco Homes programs: facilities and services. Monthly documentation figures show that Don Bosco Homes is reaching some 500 Monrovia street children with counselling, medical attention, advocacy, feeding, legal-aid, skills training for older boys willing to do so, family reunification, literacy, academic assistance, games, and football. The children themselves run to Don Bosco Homes centres when in trouble or when they are sick.
Shelters called juvenile reception centres and night-shelters. have been opened in parts of the city Paynesville, Duala, and Lynch Street- to draw the children from the streets and keep them doing literacy work and playing and so out of trouble. There are two night-shelters again in Paynesville and one or Lynch Street.
Regrettably, a number of obstacles has slowed down the work of Don Bosco Homes. For example, some people are calling the children `Don Bosco Children’ they need to be constantly reminded that they are Liberia's children; and Don Bosco Homes is only helping. Even some parents want to shift the responsibility for the upbringing of their children to Don Bosco Homes. They like to use the phrase placing them ‘on the dorm’. Again they need to be reminded that Don Bosco Homes does not run dormitories, and in general has little money for sponsorship. While trying to help transform these children for a better future, Don Bosco Homes has also been wrongly accused of harbouring rogues and criminals. The lack of funds, vehicles, and other logistics are also stalling the Don Bosco Homes efforts, Fortunately though, some parents, police officers, some who work in the markets, and others are gradually grasping the essence of what we are trying to do. Now they are beginning to help us with the street children so that we can take them back home.
By John T. Monibah