Challenging task of birth registration

Many street children are ignorant about their birth, even their parents cannot say the date

Munna is bubbling with joy as he has got his birth certificate, although he is not quite sure what the certificate is actually meant for.

It was totally unexpected to the 11-year-old boy who does not have a permanent home or address. He earns his living by picking vegetables at the Karwan Bazar wholesale market and selling them to small traders at the kitchen market.

“This is the first important document of my life. I heard that it is extremely valuable and it will help me in future,” said Munna about his latest possession — his birth certificate.

Sharmin, another lucky girl of the same age, however, knows exactly why it is so important. “It will protect me in many difficult situations such as child marriage or trafficking,” said Sharmin who lives in Bashpotti slum in Tejgaon.

Arafat, a floating child labour at Karwan Bazar who also received a birth certificate, said this would be helpful if he ever wanted to get a driving licence. His dream however is to become a singer by participating in the Close-up 1 or Channel-I singing competition.

Like Munna, Sharmin and Arafat, around four lakh street children of the city are getting their birth certificates under a special initiative taken by Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in cooperation with UNICEF, Plan Bangladesh and 11 other partner organisations.

Colonel Dr Md Showkat Ali, chief health officer of DCC, said the project began in last March and they have completed data entry of about 20,000 children. So far around 10,000 street children have received their birth certificates.

“Those who have conscious parents get their birth certificate easily. But these less fortunate street children are being left out as they do not have anyone to take care of it. Our aim is to include the hard-to-reach children in the system,” said Col Showkat.

The official informed that according to Births and Deaths Registration Act 2006, street children without parents or floating children without any address cannot be denied a birth certificate because of their social status.

Under the law parents are required to register the birth of their babies within 45 days.

SM Abdul Quader, project manager (birth registration) of Plan Bangladesh, explained its importance. “Without birth certificate it becomes extremely difficult to address child rights issues. Street children and child labourers are especially vulnerable,” he said.

“For children, birth certificate is a protection tool in case of child trafficking, child marriage and commercial sexual exploitation as it works as a proof of age,” he added.

“It gives them nationality and an identity. Most importantly it is the first bond between a child and the state. With its help children can demand their rights to the state.”

Field level workers of the project working closely with the street children said that collecting information about street children is extremely challenging.

“Most of the street children without parents or lost children who ended up on the streets do not know anything about their age or the place they were born. The runaway kids usually refrain from giving the right information,” pointed out Ashrafun Nahar Rainy, in-charge, Drop-in-Centre of Assistance for Slum Dwellers, one of the partner NGOs.

“Many street children who have parents are also ignorant about their birth year or date. Even their parents do not know anything. It becomes quite hard for us to gather information when the situation is like this,” she added.

Rainy also mentioned that often it becomes difficult to gain their trust in the first place. These children move from one place to another, making it hard to trace them. Unwanted newborns and lost toddlers found in the streets are the most challenging to work with.

There are certain provisions and guidelines in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 2006 regarding how information can be gathered about these children and how they can get their certificate.

Several discussion sessions are usually held with the children or with their parents to find out a significant event of the period they were born.

“It could be a flood, cyclone, election or even a football match. This is how we search for a possible age or birth month,” said Rainy.

The act also has provisions that in the case of parentless street children, officer-in-charge of local police station can apply on their behalf.

Birth registration has been made mandatory to get 16 basic services for every citizen.

A birth certificate serves as a proof of nationality and legal age verification document.

The Births and Deaths Registration Act requires a birth certificate to be used as proof of age for a number of essential services such as appointment in government, non-government and autonomous bodies, issuance of passport, driving licence, enrolment in voters’ list, land registration, trade licence, marriage registration etc.

The government has set a target to register births of every citizen (adult and newborn) by December 2008 and announced birth registrations free of charge from February 2007 to 31 December 2008. In the beginning the date was 2 July 2008.

Philanthropists urged to sustain foreign donor driven schemes for kids

 Philanthropists urged to sustain foreign donor driven schemes for kids
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Karachi: Specific priorities and policies of foreign donor agencies has jeopardised sustainability of no less than five different Drop in Centres (DICs) for street children, scattered in less privileged areas of Karachi.

This was highlighted at a session organised by Pakistan Voluntary Health and Nutrition Association (PAVHNA), a consortium of small community-based organisations (CBOs), actively engaged in rehabilitation of child labourers and street children.

Participants of the event comprising activists, representatives of donors and street children themselves were unanimous that local philanthropists, corporate sector and group of citizens sensitized enough about the plight of the vulnerable children, need to move in and support the critically needed facility.

They registered with deep concern that Karachi with no less than 17,000 street children is yet to have any government support system to protect them against their susceptibility to all kinds of violence and all sorts of abuse.

Activists said these kids were highly vulnerable to all forms of abuse, including sexual exploitation and addiction, therefore at high risk to contract HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C coupled with several other serious infections.

The scenario enhances urgency to see that efforts made to inculcate safe living skill through DICs are sustained on long-term basis.

Rehana Rashidi, Programme Director of PAVHNA, expressed her gratitude to Global Fund for Elimination of AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria (GFATM) and National AIDS Control Programme for their four year support for the project.

“At current point of time it is extremely difficult to communicate to the children that centres have to be closed in next three months time,” she said.

The project named as “Kirnay” that carved a niche for itself provided marginalised children, be they the scavengers, help at auto-workshops, street urchin, waiters at road side shops and hotels, apprentice at crafts centres etc, an opportunity to resume education, be conscious of their vulnerability and skills to protect against abuse, relevance of health and hygiene and healthy recreational opportunities.

“A positive change has been noticed in many of them showing improvement in decision-making such as change in profession, quitting drugs, developing healthy relations with family and friends and taking care of their health,” said Rehana Rashidi referring to frequent auditing of the project, initiated by third parties.

KIRNAY Project Manager, Anjum Shaikh, said an increased assertiveness regarding their rights by refusing abusers and demanding respect from others was quite visible and reflected revival of self-respect and self-esteem among the kids visiting DICs.

Anjum said the goal of KIRNAY project was and continues to be prevention of HIV from becoming concentrated epidemic in vulnerable population and spreading to general adult population.

These drop in centres were said to be functional in North Karachi, New Karachi, Landhi, Korangi and Malir.

Anjum Shaikh appealed to all the people to come forward and adopt these centres. She said the minimum cost of running each of these centres was estimated to be approximately Rs.150,000.

“Each of these centres cater around 3,000 children bringing the annual cost of saving a young life to a mere Rs 600,” she said.

The Project Manager said the number of indirect beneficiaries of these centres were atleast triple the actual beneficiaries.

Dr Huma Qureishi, GFATM’s Senior Programme Officer, to Pakistan urged the local philanthropists to help the kids in need of heir support.

She said that similar projects, owing to its success in Karachi, was planned to be replicated in Lahore and then at Multan with the support of Punjab AIDS Control Programme.

Chairman, Panjwani Trust and former provincial Minister for Women Development, Nadira Panjwani said committed NGOs as PAVHNA, working at grass root levels needed to be supported on strong grounds.

“Children be they the street kids or abandoned souls or those pushed before harsh realities of life due to poverty are our collective responsibility,” she said.

On the occasion children visiting different DICs managed by PAVHNA, little conscious about the fate of these facilities, narrated their personal experience and also attempted to entertain the guests through skits, qawwalis and tableau.

Handicrafts made by these kids were also on sale at the venue. A documentary film about the project was also screened on the occasion.

Senior experts,officials vow to protect orphans and street children

Senior experts,officials vow to protect orphans and street children PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 June 2008

Adama, June 28 (WIC) – Senior experts and officials working in areas related to children vowed to protect orphans and street children from abuse.

While concluding a workshop organized to discuss on ways of protecting orphans yesterday, the senior experts and officials drawn from the federal government and nine states said they would firmly stand for the protection of orphans and street children.

Workshop participants Genet Tadesse and Meseret Mamo said they would fulfill their responsibilities by establishing care and support system to save those children from the harsh conditions.

They said an integrated system should be put in place to abolish the disorganized activities of governmental and non-governmental organizations operating in the sector.

Representatives of the Amhara and Oromia states presidents’ offices, Solomon Zewde and Fekadu Ayana,said on their part they would work in collaboration with the public and the pertinent bodies so as to prevent violence against children, child trafficking and ensure the rights of children.

Member of the Social Affairs Standing Committee of the House of People’s Representative, Legesse Negash, stated that active participation of the society, governmental and non-governmental organizations is vital to solve the problems of children.

More than 100 senior experts and officials drawn from the House of People’s Representatives, state councils, justice and social affairs ministries, state and federal HIV/AIDS offices, local and foreign NGOs took part in the five-day workshop.

SPARC call for strict implementation of laws banning child labour

SPARC call for strict implementation of laws banning child labour
PESHAWAR, June 27 (APP): Regional Manager Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), Jahanzeb Khan has said that the protection of children act 2005 should be passed by the National Assembly and enforced by the Federal and Provincial assemblies for the protection of street children He said that the NWFP Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2007 should be passed from the Provincial Assembly besides ensuring free compulsory and quality education to the children. Briefing media men here on Friday, Jahanzeb Khan demanded that a network of well maintained temporary and permanent shelter homes should be established through out the country and a strong referral system be developed at national, provincial and district level.

Regional Manager SPARC said that reunification services should be streamlined for the lost and runaway children besides strictly enforcing ILO worst forms of convention 182.

He said that coordination and cooperation with media should be strengthened to meet the desired objectives apart from properly highlighting the issue.

Ijaz Khan Protection Manager said that children on street are facing several protection risks like sexual abuse, drug addiction, and commercial and sexual exploitation.

Imran Takkar Project Coordinator Street children said that SPARC has established a Drop in Center for street children in October 2006 near General Bus Stand with an objective to provide free and protected environment from all kind of abuse and exploitation.

Mr. Takkar added that around 75 runaway children were reunified with their families after giving them psycho social counseling in Drop in Center.

Besides reunification, street children are being provided facilities of education, recreational facilities, skills and information about their rights and protection from abuse and exploitation.

Till date above 300 children had befitted from the Center, while daily average 30 to 35 street children visit the Center and are being provided the facilities of education, recreation, psycho social counseling and life skills, he added.

Myth of JEM child soldiers

Myth of JEM child soldiers

Friday 27 June 2008 04:15.

By Mahmoud A. Suleiman

June 26, 2008 — Observers say it is not a coincidence that the report by the London-based human rights group Waging Peace, to emerge in less than one month after the ruling NCP political propaganda machine accused the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of using child soldiers in the Operation Long Arm (OLA) to launch its attack on Omdurman, showing some young men with facial injuries on TV footage. Waging Peace Organisation alleged in its report that refugees from the Darfur conflict as young as nine years old are being sold to armed rebel groups including Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as child soldiers! Analysts thought that report lacked credibility, barefaced lie and the Waging Peace Organisation seemed as though worked in collusion with the infamous genocidal National Congress Party (NCP) regime and promoted the views of the pariah government of Sudan (GOS) against JEM. The organisation has landed itself in trouble by its heavy handed approach to a delicate matter at an inappropriate time.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has got in its Organizational Structure a legal Secretariat/Department responsible for passing regulations which oblige the movement to abide by the Geneva Convention that prohibits enlistment of children as soldiers. JEM has never recruited children in its ranks. The JEM Statute strictly prohibits recruitment of men under the age of 18. Moreover, JEM has a humanitarian coordination officer who ensures compliance with this rule. The accusation was a drunken farce, blatant lie at its best and malicious allegation at its worst. Critics who understand the devilish tactics and dirty tricks of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of the NCP say that the children shown in the Sudan government television channel were street children who had been rounded up, subjected to bullying measures, beaten or lured them into a trap for the sake of their badly directed melodrama of smear campaign against JEM. There are credible reports that some of these children were taken from Qura’nic schools, such as Suaad al-Fatih, in the three- town Capital City of Khartoum.

This is a cheap political ploy which the genocidal regime in Khartoum has devised to tarnish the image of the Justice and Equality Movement. However, the National Congress Party elements, as always, had failed in their barmy dirty tasks. People have thought it was incumbent upon Waging Peace to exercise responsibility of being impartial when passing judgements on such sensitive issues. JEM wants to make its position abundantly clear that it has managed to attract into its membership enough number of brave and able adults to stand steadfast, defend and fight for the noble cause of the people of Sudan in Darfur. JEM, therefore, does not need to ever resort to use child soldiers.

In order to shed some light on the plight of children in Sudan under the reign of the National Congress Party (NCP) regime, it is worthwhile to obtain background information. Numbers of children on the streets of Khartoum have started to increase rapidly ever since the early 1980s, when many families moved there to escape the war in southern Sudan and the drought afflicting the western regions of Kordofan and Darfur. Two-thirds of the street children in Khartoum the National Capital of Sudan are estimated to sniff petrol-based tyre repair glue.Available data on child labour and street children in Sudan suggests that the number of street children in northern Sudan was around 70000 by the end of the year 2002, with 73% of these living in the streets of Khartoum. Boys make up around 86% of those on the streets, and girls 14%. According to Sudanese Juvenile Law (1983), “Vagrant is the boy or girl under 18 years who is vulnerable to delinquency, homeless or unable to show the way to his/her resident caretaker, or unable to give sufficient information about himself/herself.” They are considered a vagrant if they spend the night on the street, abandon their parents/guardians, engage in begging, prostitution or other ‘immorality’, or if they associate with suspected criminals. According to the Temporal Decree of Public Control Law of Khartoum State 1996, street children are defined more concisely as ‘a person who has no apparent resident place or apparent work for gaining’. It is noteworthy that both legal definitions assume children to go onto the streets according to their own will, without any consideration of the causes that may push them to do so. Social definitions are slightly different, and recognise the distinction between children on the street (who return home at night) and children of the street (who struggle alone without family support). They are often referred to as ‘abandoned’ children. Violence, kidnapping, family separation or disability as well as drought, floods, famine and disease have all had a negative impact on Sudan’s children. Among others factors, civil wars and inequitable socio-economic structure are considered the main root causes of the street children phenomenon in Sudan.

The Government of Sudan (GOS) is famous for recruiting children as soldiers in its armed forces during the wars it waged against its own citizens. In August 2006 the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the practice of recruiting child soldiers in Sudan in a report to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) implicating the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in child recruitment in southern Sudan, in Khartoum, and in child abduction and sexual violence in Darfur. His report said this continued despite peace deals in southern Sudan and the western Darfur region. The report also said sexual and other violence against children by army and militia groups persisted in southern and western Sudan. Mr Annan urged the leaders of Sudan’s Government of National Unity and the regional government of southern Sudan to end child recruitment. He added saying:” The current peace processes in Darfur and southern Sudan offer a real opportunity for the leaders of the Sudan to end the practice of recruitment and use of children once and for all." Furthermore, Mr Annan’s report stated that the National and Southern governments are directly accountable for violations by individuals under their command.

The children shown on the Sudanese television screen after 10th May 2008 were the victims of the wars kindled by the ruling genocidal National Congress Party (NCP) regime in Khartoum, the entity that deprived those children of their parents, economic and social rights and turned their lives upside down. Haphazardly dumping charges and passing fiery unsubstantiated judgements is reprehensible. It is incumbent upon the Waging Peace Agency to perfect its homework prior to hurriedly declaring unfounded allegations based on a pack of lies against JEM. 13 heads and leaders of all the refugee camps in eastern Chad made a strong statement in which they condemned the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Waging Peace Organisation for the deplorable allegation that Sudanese refugees have been engaged in child trafficking and crimes of moral turpitude selling blood of their children to the armed movements in exchange for food and sustenance. Furthermore, they discredited what has been reported by the Waging Peace agency about child trafficking in camps for Sudanese refugees in Chad as totally groundless and added it has nothing to do with reality and has no existence except in the imagination of the government and delusions of some organizations with profane purpose
affiliated falsely to humanitarian work.

Analysts believe that Waging Peace has made colossal error in judgement and it was wrong. It does indeed need to prove its allegation or it owes JEM a written apology. Would Waging Peace Do That? That is a sixty-four dollar ($64) question awaits an answer.

Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is the Deputy Chairman of the General Congress for Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). He can be reached at mahmoud.abaker@gmail.com.

Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

<a title="Photo by Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.” href=”http://www.wickedlocal.com/lincoln/archive/x833719877/g258258dcbbb0f1b7c2128af60c267985a86eee073f005f.jpg”&gt;Huang4

By Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.

Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

By Mira Vale/Correspondent

Thu Jun 26, 2008, 08:36 AM EDT

Eleven years ago, Dr. Chi Huang could have gone anywhere. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Huang had completed residencies in both pediatrics and internal medicine at some of Boston’s top teaching hospitals. But instead of continuing on to a traditional, and lucrative, medical career as many of his colleagues did, Huang took the path less traveled, opting to work with a humanitarian aid organization.

After writing to hundreds of such organizations, Huang, a Lincoln resident, chose to take part in a program that sent him to South America to La Paz, Bolivia, where he would work with the city’s many homeless and abandoned children.

“Part of it was my own personal rediscovery of why I went into medicine,” Huang said. “The main reason I went to Bolivia was actually for myself, to get off the ‘train track’ and away from fame or wealth. I wanted to make a difference.”

Huang spent four months in a domestic program to prepare himself for the journey and then flew down to Bolivia for the remainder of the year. Huang described his first month in La Paz as “incredibly frustrating,” because although he was working in a local orphanage, he was not afforded the opportunity to work with the children he most desired to help — the children living on the street.

Huang finally got his wish when he met a boy who had once lived on the streets of La Paz. The boy took him around the city at night so he could meet the children.

“[Meeting and helping the street children] was challenging and disturbing.” Huang said. “On the street, there were kids sleeping in their own fecal matter, in their own urine, in sewers, getting beaten by police and other kids.”

Sadly, poor living conditions are only a fraction of the hardships these Bolivian street children face, Huang said. 

He was able to meet the children only in the middle of the night because most of them must stay awake until sunrise, sniffing paint thinner to keep warm.

In his nights on the streets of La Paz, Huang began to form relationships with the children he met. As he treated their various illnesses and injuries, he also tried to help the children cope emotionally and spiritually. Some nights, Huang and the children would simply play soccer together.

“I tried to bring a little bit of childhood back into their lives,” he said.

At the end of Huang’s time in Bolivia, he asked one of the children what she wanted of him.

“She asked me three things,” Huang recalled. “First, that I remain present in their lives; second, that the street children be given a home; and third, that I share the story of these children.”

These humble requests became the basis of Huang’s continued mission in Bolivia as he founded the Bolivian Street Children Project, a nonprofit organization committed to saving and improving the lives of the children on the streets of La Paz. Now director of Boston Medical Center’s Pediatric Global Health Initiative, Huang spends part of each year in Bolivia in a continued effort to rehabilitate the children he meets. 

The organization has funded the construction and maintenance of three homes to transfer the children off the streets. Huang described the philosophy of the homes as a “holistic approach to the health and welfare of these kids.”

“We try to allow the kids to reach their full potential,” he said.

Each home has a psychologist and a youth pastor, who help the children cope with their histories of abuse and neglect. In addition, the homes host workshops and mentorship programs to help the children gain the skills they will need to continue their education or to find a job. Recently, the organization received a donation that allowed them to purchase computers for the homes.

“We hope this will help the kids become tech-savvy and increase their future job opportunities,” Huang said.

Despite the success of the Bolivian Street Children Project, Huang stressed that the process of rehabilitation is difficult for each and every child.

“The kids usually run away two or three times before they become a more permanent fixture in the homes,” Huang said. “It takes them anywhere from six to twelve months to get totally integrated.”

In the future, Huang said he hopes to add another three homes in order to better serve the children. Huang said he is also working to raise awareness of these children and their plight, most notably through the publication of his 2006 book, “When Invisible Children Sing,” which is available in bookstores and at the Lexington and Concord public libraries.

In the epilogue to his book, Huang wrote, “Our lives are short and fleeting. What is the legacy we leave behind? Maybe my legacy is a few square blocks of La Paz, Bolivia, where all the children have homes.”

Visit www.BolivianStreetChildren.org for further information on the project’s history and goals, as well as opportunities for donations and volunteer work.

Educating street children

Point Counterpoint

STREET children constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginal groups in Bangladesh. "Street children" are essentially the boys and girls for whom the streets, unoccupied dwellings, wastelands etc., have become homes and/or sources of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised by responsible adults.

Government statistics, based on a survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, estimate the number of street children in Bangladesh to be around 380,000 — of whom 55% are in Dhaka city. A little less than half of them (49.2%) are of the age group < 10 years, while the remaining fall in the age group of 11-19 years. Their gender composition is as follows: boys 74.3%, while girls account for 25.7%. The above report estimates that by 2014 the number of such children would exceed 930,000.

The major problems of street children are: Insecure life; physical and sexual abuse by adults of the immediate community; harassment by law enforcing agencies; no, or inadequate, access to educational institutions and healthcare facilities; and lack of decent employment opportunity.

The role of appropriate education for empowerment of children — especially the disadvantaged groups like the street or working children — has been unequivocally established. Article 17 of the Constitution of Bangladesh recognises the right to education for all — including the disadvantaged children.

The National Plan of Action for Children (2005-2010) also clearly emphasises the urgent need for "education and empowerment." Along the same vein, the National Poverty Reduction Strategy of the country provides for education as a means of "empowerment of disadvantaged groups" — including children.

Notwithstanding the above official rhetoric, and despite a growing recognition of their vulnerability and disadvantaged status, there have been strikingly limited efforts to improve the condition of street children — especially by providing them with appropriate basic education. It will not be an exaggeration to note that this section of our society has largely remained outside the main ambit of developmental interventions.

Much to the relief of all those who want, and aspire, to see a better future for our street children, there have been a few encouraging, albeit limited, efforts to educate them through Open Air Schools (OAS). These schools are managed and administered by a number of national NGOs, mainly in metropolitan cities.

The schools are strategically located, covering the city-entry points and/or working places for street children, such as railway, launch and bus terminals, market places on riverbanks, busy city markets, parks, etc. The street school spots are typically acquired (often free of cost) from the community or relevant public authorities.

A typical school functions for two to three hours everyday for up to six days a week. School operating hours are decided so that they do not interfere with the working hours of the children. Prior to commencement of classes, the concerned staff (development workers, teachers) walk around the neighbouring area to identify newly arrived children and to invite regular children to classes.

The learning materials predominantly focus on various life skills related topics. To cite a typical example, the schools run by the NGO Aparajeyo Bangladesh use an open learning package that includes the following topics: Life skills, child rights, child labour, protection from sexual abuse and exploitation (including trafficking), creating dreams, keeping safe on the streets, dealing with the police, and HIV/AIDS/STI prevention. The idea is to create an educational foundation amongst the targeted children by blending pedagogical and practical life skills.

Based on my recent experience and interactions with a number of such schools (and the key stakeholders including school staff, children, representatives of the surrounding local communities), a number of problems can be identified regarding the contents and conduct of the life skills training and capacity development sessions imparted in the schools:

The mixed age groups of children make it difficult for the educators to respond to age-specific needs, maturity and queries. For very minor children (aged 6 to 10), for example, sessions on fairly technical topics (e.g. sexual abuse, arsenic contamination, legal issues of child trafficking) are not easily comprehensible.

The time of the training (2 to 3 hours including the time for rapport building) is considered insufficient by most educators.

Some terminologies and technical jargons used in the training sessions are not easily amenable to children’s understanding.

The schools run on bare minimum logistics and facilities, and lack any protection from weather fluctuations in the rainy and winter seasons.

As the children hail from varied geographical locations and cultures, some staff noted that diversity and variations in language (including accents and dialects) sometimes make uniform conduct of training sessions difficult.

Some training materials are not in adequate supply. Use of audio-visual materials is strikingly limited.

In the OAS, ensuring and maintaining regular presence of the children, who often tend to be highly mobile and restless, is a huge challenge.

Although most educators/trainers have basic relevant training (to a varying degree), advanced training on teaching techniques and tools is clearly inadequate.

It may be relevant at this point to think about and furnish some clues on improving the effectiveness of the OAS campaign. Some such ideas include the following:

The training topics, session time, and contents need to be reviewed and analysed by appropriately qualified experts and practitioners in order to make them more consistent, comprehensible and adaptive to the specific age and intellectual development of the targeted children and the local context.

To ensure "age-content compatibility," some educators and trainers opined that the children may be divided into two groups — up to 11 years of age, and 12 years and above.

The logistical requirements of the OAS should be reviewed.

A need assessment for all teachers and trainers should be carried out, and further training such as advanced training on teaching techniques (preferably tailor-made to the street children) and training of trainers may be considered.

The contents and mode of delivery of various training and capacity development initiatives should more clearly focus on (and lean towards) a "right-based approach" as distinct from mere philanthropic orientations.

As far as possible, the training contents and literature should use visual and pictorial materials as well as physical demonstrations, where applicable. Other experimental models of training and learning may provide valuable lessons in this regard. (The relevant materials developed by such institutions as CMES, Breaking the Silence, Fulki-Chittagong etc. may be consulted in this regard).

Along the same vein, the training methodologies used in these schools need to be reviewed by appropriately qualified experts. Emphasis may be given to use of learning by doing, mock sessions, and various illustrative tools.

The
concerned staff should have systematic and regular consultations with the targeted children and community people before designing and/or implementing any training scheme, especially about its contents, time and location.

Female children should be given preference, or at least equal opportunity, in availing various skills development training.

The salience and topicality of education as a means of broad-based empowerment are now unequivocally established, both amongst the academics and the development practitioners. This observation is especially relevant for the street children as one of the most disadvantaged and marginal sections of the society. The OAS campaign, despite all the limitations, does offer some rays of hope. This interesting initiative deserves immediate attention from our policy planners, academics, and development practitioners.

Dr. Niaz Ahmed Khan is Professor of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Honourary Research Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, University of Wales, UK. He can be contacted at: niaz.khan@yahoo.com.

When theatre teaches lessons from life

When theatre teaches lessons from life
June 23rd, 2008

By Vidhu Aggarwal
New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) Bedraggled boys hawking magazines and trinkets at traffic crossings in the national capital would irritate nine-year-old Saumitra Khuller to no end. He never thought he would some day re-enact their lives on stage. Today, Khuller, a class four student of Delhi Public School, Vasant Vihar, has a totally different insight – thanks to a theatre workshop he attended and where he reprised the role of a street child who begs for a livelihood.

His love for acting made him join a workshop for children in the 9-14 age group conducted by noted theatre director Arvind Gaur at the India Habitat Centre. The 10-day-long event earlier this month opened his eyes to the trials and tribulations of street children.

“I used to get irritated when they used to run after my car – but not any more,” Khuller told IANS.

He said the workshop, organised by NGO Katha, gave him a deep insight into the lives of street children. At its conclusion, Khuller along with 20 children from well-to-do families enacted the play “Ansuni” (Those whose voices are unheeded) that was actually three playlets.

One depicted the manner in which a schoolteacher inspires a gang of street children to focus on educating themselves. The other highlighted the life of leprosy patients and the third was about a woman caught in a communal riot.

“I think everyone should help street children. No one should tease them or think bad about them just because they are illiterate and poor. They want to study but they are unable to. They just need a helping hand,” said Khuller, sounding wiser than his tender years.

During the workshop, he also realised that most of these children are runaways, mostly because their parents either ill-treated or physically abused them.

“Now whenever I see these street children, I feel sympathetic towards them. I think the government should help them by providing them with education and preventing them from taking drugs,” the young lad maintained.

“Every school should take up the education of some of these children,” Khuller said, pointing to the message of “Ansuni”.

Another student whose perception has completely changed after the workshop is Sanjana Navani, an 11-year-old who essayed the role of a Muslim woman fighting for justice after her life is changed forever by a communal riot.

For the Sardar Patel Vidayalaya girl, who was praised for her immense talent, a communal riot previously meant just a skirmish.

“I had heard about communal riots but was unaware of their real meaning. I was surprised when we were told that the clashes are so horrible that people are tortured and even burnt and buses and other vehicles are set on fire,” she added.

The class six student was so horrified when she realised what a communal riot actually meant that she said she would not watch anything related to it on TV.

On another level, Navani said she would “try to convince people that such things are wrong”.

For director Gaur, teaching the children the little nuances of theatre was a great experience and he felt that those who attended were at the right age to build confidence, team spirit and remove stage fright.

“Young children were chosen for the workshop because they don’t have apprehensions. By familiarising children with the life of street children, communal riots and leprosy, an understanding and acceptance was created that street children are not children of a lesser god,” Gaur maintained.

“Initially, it was very sad to discover that though these children go to reputed public schools, their sensitivity about such issues was zero as they had very skewered views about street children,” said Gaur, who heads the theatre group “Asmita”.

“Issues like communal riots and leprosy are very old and children should be acquainted with them. So, I decided that we could educate these children through theatre,” he added.

To go by his student’s responses, Gaur succeeded to a considerable extent in achieving what he set out to do.

Food first, then we talk politics

Food first, then we talk politics
Katlego Moeng     Published:Jun 23, 2008

Thousands of youngsters live on the streets with empty stomachs and constant fear

As Youth Month — during which young people are encouraged to embrace the freedoms of democracy — draws to a close, many children still feel marginalised by society.

Vusi Stida, 15, originally hails from Vereeniging but now ekes out a living on the streets of Hillbrow. He has been in Johannesburg for about a year but has been a street child for more than five .

“I don’t understand what you mean by democracy,” said Vusi, who is barely literate. When told about children’s rights, he shrugged his shoulders as if hearing a foreign language.

Despite the cold weather, Vusi was wearing a short-sleeved shirt when The Times spoke to him. He shivered in the winter-afternoon breeze.

His only sources of warmth are a fire, which other street children gather around, and a threadbare blanket he shares with a younger friend.

“It is painful living here. I just want a place to stay and I would love to go back to school,” he said.

But Vusi can’t go home.

“My father died when I was still very small and I don’t know the rest of my family because they don’t like my mother … she drinks a lot. So I have to go out and beg for money to get something to eat,” he said.

The child-rights organisation South African Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 60000 children live on South Africa’s streets. According to its statistics, about 1000 children are murdered in South Africa every year, 24000 child sexual abuse cases are reported annually and 1500 children disappear.

Like Vusi, many youths are not reflected in these figures because they are not reported missing and are not registered with a shelter.

Organisations like the Tshwane Alliance for Street Children work tirelessly in dealing with neglect, abuse and homelessness among children, but they say they can only reach a limited number. The organisation houses more than 180 children and its outreach programmes help more than 400.

The alliance’s chairman, Tahiyya Hassim, said: “Poverty and abuse — sexual, physical and psychological — are the main reasons children leave home. But they withstand abuse for many years before going to the streets.”

Some children are thrown out by their families.

Lynne Cawood, of Childline, said: “About 42 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls experience forced sex before 18.”

A despondent street child, Madenza, said: “I can’t live at home, but I can’t live in a shelter either. The police harass us, like this week they came at night and took our blankets. They said they don’t want us on the streets.

“The girls prostitute themselves so they usually have a place to stay,” he said.

Rev Steve Ugo, of Tower of Salvation Ministries, has also come to the aid of the street children . He said the only way to guarantee a good future is by looking after the young.

“Illiteracy and ignorance are dangerous because these are tomorrow’s adults. What kind of tomorrow is this?”

Lauren Child: drawing on real life

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Lauren Child: drawing on real life

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 21/06/2008

Christopher Middleton meets Lauren Child, best-selling author of Charlie and Lola, and hears how she is working with Unesco to help street children around the world

At first sight, there don’t seem many similarities between Lauren Child and Pesky Rat, her fictional creation. She’s a smartly turned-out, internationally successful children’s author and illustrator, with a house in London’s Belsize Park; he’s the scrawny, faintly pongy hero of her newly republished story That Pesky Rat, address Dustbin Number 3, Grubby Alley.

  Lauren Child
‘For some reason I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a child’

There was a time, however, when the now best-seller author felt just as much of an outcast as her rodent friend.

"I was in my late 20s, getting nowhere in my career, and all of a sudden I had to move out of the room I was renting, because the woman who owned the house had to sell up," Child recalls. "From that point on, I was in a constant state of either house-sitting for friends or else sleeping on their floor. After a few months of that, my morale plummeted. You’re sitting there in your friends’ home, you hear their key in the door and you immediately leap up and start to make yourself busy tidying things away, or else try to make yourself as small as possible, so that they don’t feel you’re in the way. Which, of course, you are.

"Eventually, they start feeling guilty about wishing you weren’t there and you start to feel guilty about making them feel guilty. I know it’s not as dramatic as having to sleep out on the streets, but it is a sort of homelessness in its own way and it was a horrible time in my life. After all, I’d come out of art school fondly imagining I would be discovered and have my own studio in next to no time, yet here I was, years later, still no further on. And the worst thing is, when you’re in that kind of situation, always moving between friends’ houses, you’re unable even to think about the future – you’re just existing in the present."

It was this unhappy period in Child’s life that first inspired her to write That Pesky Rat, about an unloved and disregarded creature whose dream is to find a home and someone to look after him. And it was Pesky Rat, in turn, who led Child to the ramshackle back streets of Mexico City, and the extraordinary Renacimiento Children’s Shelter.

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Here, some 70 young orphans and runaways are introduced not just to reading, writing and breadmaking, but to love, care and a life away from the drug-ridden world outside.

"All the time we were there, we were told we shouldn’t walk out into the street on our own, not for one second," says Child, who recently went to the shelter to lead illustration classes with the children. "In the surrounding streets, there are all these tennis shoes hanging from wires, which is apparently the way drug-dealers leave signs for each other. The children who live at the shelter have all spent months, maybe years out on the street, where they get drawn into crime, drugs, prostitution – you name it. Most end up sniffing a revoltingly powerful solvent that kills them if they don’t stop.

"However, when they come into Renacimiento [Rebirth], they have to agree not to take or sell drugs, but to go to school each day and to take part in all the classes and activities at the shelter." One of those activities was a session with Child, in which she and the children spent several happy hours drawing characters from her TV cartoon, Charlie and Lola.

Though as English as you can get, this brother-and-sister double act is just as popular with impoverished street children in Mexico City as it is with well-to-do young boys and girls in Knightsbridge. The secret of its success is that the characters talk and sound like real children. Somehow their creator tunes in not only to the illogically logical thought patterns of a four-year-old girl (Lola loves swimming with whales in the bath), but also to their speech patterns ("I will not ever never eat a tomato").

"I don’t have children of my own," says Child, who is single, "but for some reason I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a child. I only have to get told off in a shop and I’m a seven-year-old girl again, powerless and mortified, absolutely not in control." Of course, it’s not everyday that the young Renacimiento residents get to work with famous foreign writers. Mostly, their instructors are tutors from the immediate neighbourhood, with a brief not so much to instil academic excellence as to pass on practical skills such as welding and baking, carpentry and computing.

  Lauren in Mexico
Lauren with children in Mexico

It was the non-traditional nature of the education at Renacimiento that caught the attention of Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Org
anisation), under whose banner Child visited the shelter. "Your conventional Victorian model of learning, with neat rows of desks, just doesn’t work with kids like the ones at Renacimiento, who have fled from violent, unhappy homes and had to fend for themselves out on the streets," says Unesco’s Ben Faccini, who accompanied Child to Mexico.

"You have to approach education from a completely different angle, teaching skills that are relevant to these children’s lives but at the same time just happen to involve an element of reading, writing or arithmetic." And does this sideways-on approach work? Most definitely, says 19-year-old Carlos Ramirez Gomez, who came into the shelter when he was 13. "I left home at the age of 10 and lived for two years at the bus station," he says. "I took drugs, but not so many as to destroy myself. At the shelter, they give us the tools to build a worthwhile future. Now I am in my second semester doing computer studies. I hope one day to open my own cyber cafĂ© and have a big family."

Again, not the same sort of story as Child’s. Far from being damaged by a traumatic home life, she and her two sisters had a happy upbringing in Wiltshire (her father was a much-respected art teacher at Marlborough College). "Nothing really bad happened to me, but at the same time, I got to the age of 29 and felt that I’d failed at absolutely everything I’d set out to do," says Child, 41. "A friend once said you can’t tell people how to change their lives – first they have to go to hell in their own way. And I rather think I did.

"Eventually, after about 10 months of feeling very wobbly, I finally came to the decision that instead of holding out for the perfect job or the perfect place to live, I was just going to take what was offered and see what happened. So when friends asked if I’d like to rent their tiny box room, I didn’t turn my nose up, I said yes. And when another friend told me about a job that was going as an assistant in an art studio, I didn’t say: ‘Oh no, it’ll stop me doing my own work’, I just applied for it and got it.’" (The artist involved turned out to be Damien Hirst.)

"So when someone else suggested I write a children’s book, because childhood seemed to be a recurring theme in my illustrations and my thinking, I thought: ‘Yes, I’ll try that; I might get an agent out of it.’" She then wrote and illustrated Clarice Bean, That’s Me, which not only got her an agent but launched an award-winning literary career, in which so far she has sold three million books in 19 countries.

"I’d always had confidence in my ability, thanks mainly to my father, who was very good at getting people to achieve more than they think possible," says Child. "But at art school I’d gone into a downward spiral, which continued for some years until suddenly, with my book, people started to value something about me again." It’s this experience of her own renacimiento that has prompted Child to throw herself into her Unesco work, which officially starts on Wednesday with the launch of My Life is a Story, a website and campaign fronted by Child (see end of article for details).

Not only are she and her publishers, Hachette, donating profits on the re-released That Pesky Rat to Unesco’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need, but Child is now visiting other projects that the programme funds.

She recently went to Mongolia to see a scheme aimed at rehousing the street children who are rounded up by the overwhelmed police. And she has just come back from Vietnam, where she visited an orphanage that has been amalgamated with an old people’s home. "The children get comfort and love, and the old people get a new focus for their lives."

There’s more. Over the past decade, Unesco’s Education of Children In Need programme has helped fund 336 projects in 92 countries, working not just with street children but also with former child soldiers in Mozambique, with Aids orphans in China and with young rubbish-scavengers in Cairo, who have been trained in recycling and now run waste-saving workshops for the staff of smart Red Sea hotels.

Again, rather than overtly inculcating the three Rs, the project leaders get the children to develop those skills almost subliminally, through the disciplines inherent in the non-textbook subjects they do teach, such as ballet (in Brazil), basketball (Benin) and circus skills (Mexico).

"We only support projects that are already up and running and can supply us with properly audited financial accounts," says the Unesco programme’s director, Françoise Pinzon-Gil. "And although we pay the teachers for the teaching, we never pay the salaries of the administrative staff, because we want them to put in place a structure that will enable them to continue when our funding stops [three years is the maximum period].

"Of course, we are working all the time to commend these projects to the governments of the countries in which they are based. In Mongolia, for example, the state has taken up our distance learning scheme for children in the Gobi Desert and expanded it across the whole country.

"In Laos, we created a portable bamboo school, which has 10 teachers and can be set up in remote areas, then dismantled after a few months and taken elsewhere. The government was so impresed it has now set up its own Department of Informal Education." Although it might seem a long way from the mountains of Laos and the back streets of Mexico City to the grassy lawns of Great Britain, Lauren Child believes that the distance is not as great as we might like to think. "What my experience in my 20s taught me is that so much of life is down to luck," she says.

"Through a not particularly dramatic or unlikely chain of events, I discovered the absence of the safety net that had always been there when I was a child.

"Luckily, I had friends who helped me, and who let me sleep on their floors. But I could all too easily see how, say, someone would go to London hoping to make it as a singer, say, and end up, just by lack of good luck, homeless and out on the streets.

‘In the past, I could never understand why people like that didn’t just do the logical thing and go back home to their parents. Then I found myself in that position. Yes, the logical move was for me to go back home to my parents in Wiltshire, yet I couldn’t even contemplate it: I was too old, too proud, it was a backward step, it was an admission of defeat – all that sort of thing.

"So I had a glimpse of what homelessness could be like, and I realised that, if it could happen to me, it could happen to any of us and any of our children, too." For a first-hand account of what life really does look like from the dustbin, who better to turn to than Pesky Rat himself?

"Sometimes," he says, "when I am tucked into my crisp packet, I look up at all the cosy windows and wonder what it would be like to live with creature comforts. To belong to somebody. To be an actual pet."

  • All profits of the special edition of That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child (Orchard Books, £5.99) will go to Unesco’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need and its My Life is a Story campaign. A special website, www.mylifeisastory.org, will be launched by Child on Wednesday, giving children from all over the world a chance to tell the stories of their past and sketch out their dreams for the future.
  • From today until September 21
    , Manchester Art Gallery is staging a free exhibition of Lauren Child’s work, entitled Green Drops and Moonsquirters, in which children can explore Charlie and Lola’s home and visit Pesky Rat’s dustbin in Grubby Alley. The exhibition is open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm at the gallery in Mosley Street, Manchester. For further information, call 0161 235 8888 or see www.manchestergalleries.org.