|Artem, 14, sits on a wall outside ‘The Way Home’, a UNICEF-supported shelter in the port city of Odessa, Ukraine that helps ensure the fundamental rights of street children.|
By Guy Degen
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified 18 years ago, on 20 November 1989. For this landmark anniversary, UNICEF has launched the ‘CRC@18’ campaign to raise awareness about child rights and the impact of the Convention. Here is one in a series of related stories.
ODESSA, Ukraine, 19 November 2007 – For thousands of street children in Ukraine, daily life is a fight for survival. Their rights are often violated and normal childhood has often been replaced by drug addiction and violence.
Miroslav, 17, for example, lives in squalor, with clothes and garbage strewn everywhere in the corner of an unused garage. He shares his makeshift home with two other youths – Vova and Taras. These are just a few of the estimated 4,000 homeless children on the streets of Odessa who lack the fundamental right to protection.
A step forward
Inhaling glue or injecting a cocktail of cold and flu medicines are common ways of taking drugs among homeless young people. Sharing needles and engaging in unsafe sex make them one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV in Ukraine.
|Two homeless youths sit on a mattress, while a third boy sleeps, in a burnt-out and abandoned house strewn with garbage in Odessa.|
Meanwhile, violence, sexual abuse and drug addiction often lead to crime. Many homeless children in Odessa say they expect to die on the streets.
For street children looking to change their lives, a non-governmental organization called ‘The Way Home’ is a step forward. In partnership with UNICEF, the organization is providing protection as well as legal and educational services for street children in central Odessa.
“UNICEF is trying to provide access for street children to basic services like education, health, first aid and counselling on HIV, to help them stay healthy and get some basic education,” says UNICEF Ukraine’s Assistant Project Officer for HIV and Young People’s Health and Development, Olena Sakovych.
Ms. Sakovych adds that street children in Ukraine are among the most vulnerable in society and often lack the implementation of their basic rights.
|© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/ Degen|
|Ukrainian street children have a chance to realize their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child through a UNICEF-supported summer camp programme operated by ‘The Way Home’.|
Active outreach teams
Throughout each week, ‘The Way Home’ sends an outreach team to visit areas where street children are known to congregate. Social workers provide youths with clean water and food, as well as some basic first aid.
Establishing contact with street children is the first step toward showing them that protection, care and support are available – and that there are alternatives to the street.
Over the summer, ‘The Way Home’ also sets up an outdoor camp by the pebble beaches of the Black Sea, giving youths a chance to play, swim and enjoy the season. Activities such as cleaning the beach also encourage them to gain a sense of personal responsibility, help others and look after their local environment.
“Here, you find friends that will support you and you can do what you enjoy the most,” says Lena, 15, who lived on the streets before finding the programme. “This is your second home. This is a second chance.”