|By: Anwar Mughram For Yemen Times|
The phenomenon of street children has become a widespread problem in the world, especially the Third World, and is due to multiple reasons, including economic and social situations. Numerous studies conducted at various levels both nationally and internationally indicate that economics represented by poverty are the top reasons for the phenomenon.
The problem has increased in Yemen in a surprising manner over the past decade, attributed to increased rates of unemployment and poverty and partly by lifting government subsidies on foodstuffs and oil products.
Located some 800 kilometers from the capital of Sana’a, Yemen’s coastal city of Mukalla is filled with street children, whom one can see every day. They come from remote areas in search of food for themselves and their families whom they left behind.
Thus, the streets become the sole place for such children where they spend both their working hours and their resting times. Lying on cartons with only the sky as their roof, Mukalla street children spend their days and nights there, not resorting to blankets due to the hot weather. When they want to use a toilet, they must wait for mosque bathrooms to open at prayer times.
Regarding the reasons for the phenomenon, which is very common in Mukalla, Mohammed bin Thalib, dean of Hadramout University’s Faculty of Education, comments, “There are many reasons, including family disintegration, widespread illiteracy and weak social upbringing of children and orphans.”
Psychologist Fouad Al-Salahi believes there are overlapping reasons, including lack of family awareness about children’s rights and the risks they face on the streets. Further, the matter also has something to do with poor education levels in Yemeni schools. However, he adds that poverty tops the list of reasons for the phenomenon.
“Poverty, want and extremely low income are the main reasons for the phenomenon,” agrees Hassan Al-Odaini, a child street vendor who sells kitchen equipment in Mukalla’s women’s market, “What causes a father send his child to such a faraway city to work are dire circumstances, poverty and low income.”
According to Hamoud Ali, who transports vegetables on his truck from Sana’a to Fouwah Central Market, the street children phenomenon results from poverty and government negligence of rural areas, which lack even basic public services and facilities.
He notes that more than 50 street children are from Ibb governorate’s Houbaish district, an area deprived of basic services and development projects, together with very few schools.
“I was in fifth grade when I left school and came to work in Mukalla due to my family’s poor living conditions because we’re unable to meet our daily needs,” 10-year-old Muath Al-Shar’abi explains. He adds that his family can’t rent a house because they receive little income and thus, they can’t afford blankets, mattresses, etc., or pay rent.
Sociologist and researcher Abdullah Al-Mikhlafi highlights the phenomenon’s socio-psychological effects on street children. “Street children are affected by a number of socio-psychological factors, including lack of a proper social upbringing, exposure to assaults and sometimes sexual abuse, together with dropping out of school,” he notes.
Mukalla street child Saddam Sa’eed comments, “We live on the streets, so we’re exposed to malaria from the mosquitoes spread throughout the city. We’re also subjected to sexual harassment and sometimes rape.”
He went on to say that Yemeni street children lead miserable lives because they have no custody, protection or rights, pointing out that most of the time, the homeless and misguided drop out of school.
Mohammed Ali, a street child selling qat in Al-Ghalilah Central Market, affirmed Sa’eed’s comments, assuring that street children like him are subject to assaults, mistreatment and sexual abuse by the surrounding society. As proof, he revealed marks and traces of beating on his face and body.
He also mentioned blackmail practiced against street children by their bosses. “They quite often deduct sums from our salary without any apparent reason, except that we are children,” Ali lamented, “They don’t consider our hard living conditions, together with our families; rather, they treat us as if they have neither families nor children of their own.”
What’s distinctive about Mukalla street children is that between 90 and 95 percent of them aren’t from Mukalla; rather, they are from various Yemeni governorates, including Ibb, Dhamar, Taiz and several others, according to Al-Mikhlafi.
“Most street children work as street vendors, car cleaners and sometimes beggars. Most of them spend all of their time on the street, lying on cartons, even when sleeping,” he explains.
Al-Mikhlafi adds that street children originally from Mukalla don’t exceed 5 percent, mostly working in fish transport and cleaning fruits and vegetables, and found in zones such as Al-Dais, Al-Sharj, Al-Ghalilah and Fouwah.