"Tunisia, May 5 (Prensa Latina)
Street children in Tunisia are young, most of the time too young, roam the streets poorly dressed, barefoot and without a home to return to, warned the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for Tunisia.
These children, aged between 14 and 18 years, constitute a social problem for the local authorities to the point that the media, known for its constant praise of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has given broad coverage to the matter lately.
The UNICEF report of 2004 ‘Street Children in Tunisia. Analysis and Recommendations’, says many families in urban areas and the suburbs are forced to neglect their children because of economic and social hardships.
In many cases the young criminals belong to poor and ill-structured families: parents with criminal records, and raised in one-parent homes or amid domestic violence.
Official figures on children at risk do not exist but in 1999 the national security services assisted nearly 1,500 teenagers at risk or becoming troublesome, 70% of whom were integrated into the national educational system but engaged in criminal activities while on vacation.
In 2001 the number of petty crimes by juveniles reaching the courts rose to 10, 643 and represented 4% of all trials, but 80% of the cases reported by 2004 consisted of aggravated assault on people and property, a disturbing increase. The situation is accompanied by a high rate of recidivism, of 22.5 percent.
The minimum age of legal responsibility in Tunisia is 13 years and the Children’s Code favors protection of the child’s dignity bearing in mind their age and need for social reintegration. The data suggest new policies are needed to reduce the cycle of social marginalization that pushes young people into delinquency."