Street girls suffer in silence It’s not always easy to identify the street children in Khartoum. With large numbers of poor and displaced living in and around the city it is often difficult to distinguish who has a home and a family to go home to and who does not. Whilst the displaced often live in settlements on the outskirts of Khartoum and mostly have families, jobs and homes, there are many more people living in vacant or unfinished buildings in makeshift shelters and another large number of children who spend their nights sleeping in markets, cemeteries or in hiding places at the side of roads. Khartoum’s street kids receive barely any support from the government and they are extremely vulnerable to the dangers of the life they have to lead. They face prejudice from society and can only rely on a few committed organizations who continue to support them. Interview with Halaf Alla – Sabah ‘Sabah runs outreach programmes for both boy and girl street children. We go out to different locations in Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North and provide a variety of services. For example, street girls often become pregnant when they are quite young and so we offer them financial and emotional support to ensure that they can go to a hospital to receive medical treatment and give birth. We also try to provide them with some awareness about raising their child. We have social workers who offer psycho-social counseling and who can help to re-unite street children with their families in cases where they have relations and if they wish to do this. Sabah also provides juvenile justice services. If a street child gets in trouble with the police we send a psychologist to the court to defend them.’ Unfortunately we cannot offer education services or accommodation and food for the children. We did have a centre back in 2001-3 but we had to close it because we got complaints from the local community. We need to create societal awareness about the plight of these children. If a young woman and man are together in a relationship it is not acceptable to society if they are not married. But how can they get married? To be married you need an ID and you need money. So they try to establish their own culture. They have a ‘wedding ceremony’ where they invite their friends and people bring gifts but this is not recognized by the Government or by Islam. When the kids become adults and try to find work people don’t want to employ them because they look dirty and they are afraid to trust them. When we try to find jobs for the homeless we don’t have a guarantee for employers that the person will be a good employee so they won’t take the risk. Interview with Bashir (Nagat’s friend) SIHA interviewed Bashir, a man who has worked with street children for many years. He told the story of Mary who left home when she was nine years old. He says ‘she has spent most of her life on the street. When she was still at home she used to do domestic work to earn a living and help her mum brew alcohol. After leaving home Mary spent her life on the streets and lived in the local market where she got pregnant. She now has a little girl but is still living on the street.’ ‘The issue of street children became much more significant in the 1980s when there was a noticeable increase in numbers. However recent growth of the street population has been most significant in numbers of girls. ‘Most of the work done by civil society organizations to help street children has focused on boys; street girls have been neglected.’ Bashir finds that when he talks to street children he finds that their key priority is food, followed by security, safety and then health care. He feels that their problems and particularly those of girls, who are the most vulnerable, are not being met ‘there is a lack of institutional support. There is no recognition or acknowledgement by the Government of the problems that these street children face. There is no budget allocated for them’ Moreover he feels that the problems are getting worse. Twenty years ago we were seeing rising numbers of children on the streets but now the girls are becoming mums whilst still living without a home. We are witnessing new generations of whole families living on the street. In their own words…life on the streets Rabha, 16 I was born in Obeid but I have been in Khartoum for three years. A friend told me to come here because he said I would have a better life but when I got to Khartoum life was very bad. My friend left me and I had to live on the street. I have had no education but I found work cleaning in a house. However the owner hit me and only paid me some of the time so I left. Living on the street I would sometimes have to beg for money and I would often get raped by street boys but then I met my husband. Now he looks after me paying for everything and protecting me from violence. Ikram, 20 I came from a house in Samrah. It was my grandmother’s house but I left four years ago because my brothers were very cruel and they used to hit me. When I left, I went to Souq al Arabi but the police found me and took me to Bashire (a Government-run institution for street children). At first it was good there but then a new policeman came to work there and the situation became bad. If somebody made a mistake like a fight between two of the girls or if someone tried to escape they would punish everyone by beating them. Eventually I left but life on the street was also tough. There is no work for girls. Boys can wash cars but if I tried to do this, as a girl, the owner of the car would refuse. Sometimes my situation was so desperate that I had to sell sex in order to survive. When you need money that badly you will do anything. At times I would sniff glue, smoke or drink aragi to make myself feel better. However later I met my husband and now things are better as he can earn money for both of us. Yet we still live on the street and society doesn’t accept that this man is my husband. The Government doesn’t like it that we are together without a marriage contract so when the police find us they beat us up and separate us. Hanan, 22 I was born in a house in Ha Yousef, Bahri but I left home five years ago because my family wanted me to marry my cousin and I didn’t want to do it. I got work in a house but I couldn’t stay there so at night I would sleep on the street. Then I found my husband and I stopped working. I live with him in an empty house. I have a baby who is one and a half and I am pregnant again. When I had my baby nobody gave me any advice about how to care for her or myself and before I went to live on the streets I had no idea about sex. However when I began living rough I soon found out about it because I was raped and one time I even think I saw the police raping a street girl. There are some local and international organizations who help us but this is not regular assistance. House where kids can stay In Fit i Hab there is hope for some lucky street children who have made it off the street, now living in the refuge of two houses run by the Sudan Interior Church. The project began back in 2000. The difference between these girls and those still living on the street is obvious. Whilst the latter have become adults overnight facing rape and beatings and bringing up families on the streets, the former have managed to hold on to their childhood. They are still girls, singing songs, playing games and dreaming about their future.
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