E. Young & N. Yacoubian / MONUC
20 aug. 07 – 12.07h
On 17 August 2007, MONUC’s Child Protection Division organized a one day exchange and sensitization seminar in the Holy Family parish in N’Djili, Kinshasa, within the framework of the joint MONUC and Congolese National Police (PNC) child protection campaign. Among the participants were PNC commanders, local authorities, leaders of local women’s groups and church leaders. Dominique Bulamatari, auxiliary Bishop of Kinshasa, gave us his views on the campaign, the role of the church and the long term solution to the phenomenon of street children in Kinshasa and the DRC.
What is the role of the church in the campaign?
The role of the church initially is to facilitate the child protection meetings and discussions between the various partners on street children. The church would also like to be a partner, so that the image of street children can be improved and so that we can think about street children, and what would be in their best interests.
What has led to the campaign being set up?
The last investigation carried out in Kinshasa this year showed that there are 14,000 children on the streets. It is serious for an African city, especially when people talk of African solidarity. This investigation shows a reality and if we don’t pay attention, we are likely to have a human time bomb which will make our city intolerable.
We are likely to have a generation which was born on the street and which grows up on the street, with increased crime and insecurity. This is because the natural environment for the development of a child is the family, and not the street.
For Catholics, God didn’t create the world so that children end up on the street. The child is always a gift, a gift which arrives within a natural framework which is the family, the home.
What do you think of this campaign?
It is good that the police force is sensitized because it is often in contact with these children. Recently, when there were problems in Kinshasa, the police force rounded up the street children. But if one looked at it more closely, one realized there was certain treatment which was unnecessary. They are already suffering in the street and this raid made it worse.
The campaign must also be aimed at the mothers so that they can view the police as proving security for people and their property, and not as the enemy. One cannot prevent them doing their work.
It is necessary for us to come together around a table, to show our common and individual interests, and the language becomes common.
As a bishop, I would tell the police officers to look closely at their work methods so that this method does not create more problems than we already have, to be critical of themselves with regard to these children, not to treat these children with the same stereotypes.
In general these children are not bad. But the manner in which we view them is sometimes more wrong then right. The police force today needs to improve their contact with these children through dialogue, as well as the parents who end up leaving these children on the street.
I would like to see a more open-minded new way of looking at these children, new ways of treating them. Violence perpetuates violence and it is shown elsewhere that there are other ways.
Do you think that the campaign will improve the lives of street children here in Kinshasa?
I think the campaign will improve the situation of our street children, because everyone is working on their end; police officers, the mothers of children and the priests in their churches.
The campaign brings us together so that we will all speak the same language so that the child, who is our target, can hear same the langauage. If he receives several languages, he will not understand the action of protection which is for his benefit.
In your opinion, what is the long-term solution to the problem of street children?
What one can foresee as a long-term solution is a strong state where the families receive what it is necessary to shoulder their responsibility with regard to the children that they bring into the world. In other words, to give parents the means to nourish their children and to pay for their education and health.
What advice would you give to mothers so that they avoid leaving their children on the streets?
I would tell the mothers to make a real effort not to give up their children. There are structures which try to take their issues into account. We organised CARITAS so that in each parish, there is a small circle of counsellors.
They will not answer requests immediately but they can relay their questions to find solutions. I ask them to come together, to expose and discuss their problems because united we stand, divided we fall.
It is a problem which many mothers go through. There are NGOs which work in this area, who help to find solutions and make their stories heard.