Issue of street children ‘one of most important mounting social problems’

Issue of street children ‘one of most important mounting social problems’
By Farah Aridi
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BEIRUT: The number of street children in Lebanon is rising, and a range of measures need to be taken to combat the problem, according to participants at a workshop in Beirut.

Although no official statistics exist on the number of street children in Lebanon, the Lebanese Evangelical Organization has 60 children under its protection, said the group’s head John Iter on Monday. Iter said 15 percent of street children in Lebanon are Lebanese, while 55 percent are foreigners and the remaining 30 percent are of mixed Lebanese-foreign parentage.

Iter made his statements during a three-day workshop at the An-Nahar newspaper’s training center in Beirut, organized by the Social Affairs Ministry and the Higher Council for Childhood so concerned groups could exchange views with journalists on the approach to street children in the media.

The phenomenon of street children “has become one of the most important mounting social problems in Lebanon,” said secretary general of the Higher Council for Childhood Elie Mikhael.

“According to UNICEF and the National Labor Organization, street children can be divided into two categories: those in the street still in full contact with their parents and street children who don’t have anyone and are totally dependent on themselves,” he said.

There are different reasons that drive or force children to resort to the streets, he said. The reasons include the need for freedom, a wish to escape from parental pressures, violence or indifference and the search for trust and responsibility.

“Certain parents send their children off to work to raise money. Extreme, violent measures ranging from beatings to sexual abuse are taken [if] the child refuses to go or deliver the earnings of the day,” Mikhael said, adding parents’ pressure to make money as another reason for the increase in the number of street children during the hard economic times prevailing in Lebanon.

Aside from the daily needs such as food, clothes and shelter, Mikhael said it was important to provide a child with a suitable environment for a decent life.

“The children on the street are the most vulnerable to going astray, getting raped or abused, as well as manipulated,” he said. “Understanding and counseling is desperately needed to eliminate their problematic psycho-social state.”

In the presence of poor families unable to support their children, Mikhael announced that the council wished to reinforce family ties and renew missing links. “Sometimes we provide financial aid as well,” he added.

Mikhael announced the introduction to Lebanon of the foster family, where street children are temporarily placed until their parents are able to care for them or until a family adopts them permanently.

“Though it is still not that popular in Lebanon, foster families do solve lots of problems,” he said.

“Every intervention is carried out according to specific cases that do not resemble each other in any way,” he added.

The Higher Council for Childhood also urged stricter border security and free elementary education. “Most of the children found in the streets are non-Lebanese citizens who have been brought into the country through trafficking,” Mikhael added.

Rita Karam from the Higher Council for Childhood demanded that street children be given their rights with full consideration for their different circumstances and environments.

Recreational and educational programs in sync with the children’s needs and circumstances are needed. “Lebanon has already signed the International Treaty for Children’s Rights, which mandates the implementation of all articles stated in it,” Karam added.

One of the first barriers to addressing the issue is the fact that many street children have no identification cards, Karam said. “Having no identification documents makes it harder for these children to be received by organizations or obtain the least of their rights,” she said.

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