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May 01, 2013

Needs of Ethiopia’s Street Children not Met, Aid Group Says

by Marthe van der Wolf

Shelter is among the many things Ethiopia’s street children long for.  But a study by the international aid group Save the Children indicates that local non-governmental organizations and community organizations rarely offer what the street children want. 
 
Azeb Adefrsew, a researcher with Save the Children, said the limited services provided by local NGOs do not match what the kids see as their greatest needs.

“The children say that their major problem was shelter.  But the street children organizations were providing mainly food and other items, clothing and so on," Adefrsew explained. "But the children were not satisfied with the services they were receiving.”

Save the Children interviewed kids living on the streets in five major cities, three regional towns and eight rural villages across Ethiopia.  The children discussed a wide range of topics, including their needs, health and risks.
 
There are about 30,000 street children in Ethiopia, with 17,000 in capital city, Addis Ababa, alone. More than half of these kids do not have access to shelter or adequate food.

They mostly survive on what they receive from shining shoes, selling small items to passersby and begging.

There are health risks.  Research data indicate some 30 percent are seriously sick, but most do not have access to any kind of treatment.  And about 40 percent give indications they have been forced to have sex.  Shelter is seen by the kids as way of reducing these kinds of risks.
 
GOAL Ethiopia is an NGO that facilitates services for street children such as psychological support, non-formal education and guidance on how to reintegrate back into their communities.
 
Kedir Ahmed of GOAL Ethiopia acknowledged the findings in the study, but said providing a shelter is not the best way to help street kids. “No organization can afford to provide all these services for the children.  What we try to do is to do that rehabilitation support while street children are still on the street.  So in the environment where all the resistance and the problem is still happening, if you provide the rehabilitation support, they can change their life,” he noted.
 
GOAL used to provide shelter for street children, but found that it discouraged the children from re-entering their own communities.  In most cases, the children had left home because of poverty, and shelters were often more comfortable than the family homes.
 
The British organization Retrack provides 300 street children in Addis Ababa with shelter.  The aid group's country director, Lynn Kay, believes poverty also needs to be tackled because it is a major reason why children leave home.   "Poverty is a major push factor for children to move on to the street, that’s our experience with the children," she said. "Also, I think what would be great to see is money being channeled to help children to reintegrate with their families instead of being placed in institutions, where we know that the care for children is not good for children.  Children don’t do well in institutions.”

The Ethiopian government is currently in the final stages of completing the National Social Protection Strategy that also includes a new child policy.  New approaches and structural changes will be included for vulnerable children -- such as supporting families to reduce poverty and keep children off the streets.  The government is reaching out to international organizations to make the new policy happen.