There is no doubt we all agree that children are the future of a nation. We empower them to make better decisions tomorrow that will impact them positively, and lead them to engage in transformative activities in society for the benefit of others.
We are well convinced that how we shape them today will determine the shape of our nation tomorrow.
I wonder, however, how many of us consider the fate of street children and their potential to contribute to future various aspects of national development.
Today is the International Day for Street Children. Launched in 2011, it is intended to give a voice to millions of street children around the world so that their rights cannot be ignored – at least not anymore.
Although not a UN – recognised international day, it is observed in 130 countries around the world every year on April 12. This year’s theme is Identity. The theme explores two aspects of street children’s identity;
The first is identity in terms of the challenges faced by street children and young people when trying to get identity documents and how this leads them to not being able to access key services such as education and healthcare or to harassment by the police.
The second aspect is the constructive identity of how street children define their own identities, how they see themselves and how societies in general perceive them.
While the first is important, I would like to delve more into the second part of the theme on constructive identity.
How society perceives and places a certain value on street children to a great extent contributes to how they define and see themselves.
Street children worldwide have been described as; “a problem”, “a challenge” and even “a menace”.
They are accused of tainting the image of green clean business cities and centres as they parade about in their dirty clothes and show off poor social mannerisms. We roll up the windows of our cars when they walk past us in traffic jams and even cross the road when we see them coming from a distance so we won’t have to cross paths with them.
Nobody wants to associate with them. As a result, street children have become alienated from the fabric of society; society does not give them a chance and is blind to their needs and issues.
What we see as a problem or challenge, however, is a great opportunity to take part in molding the future of a country. When we talk of children as the future of a country, street children are part and parcel of this future and have great potential in contributing towards national development.
Like children living in normal homes with parents or guardians, street children have similar potential to impact the future.
The International Day for Street Children is especially important in reconstructing societies’ perception of street children and sending out a clarion call for their inclusion in society, through laws and policies that address their issues as well as empower them to be positive change agents.
In Rwanda, the day comes within just days of the appointment of a new National Women Council committee that has pledged to increase efforts to effectively address street children.
The committee says it will work with religious leaders and other stakeholders to resettle street children into families.
The pledge is a positive thing in my book which communicates that there is a part of society that takes cognisance of the need to actively get engaged in finding lasting solutions for street children.
Not to be pessimistic but it is unlikely that National Women Council will resettle every street child in Rwanda for good.
This means that more efforts and more people need to be ingaged in championing for their rights and finding innovative ways to empower them to grow to become responsible citizens who will contribute to the realisation of Rwanda’s vision.
Certainly, addressing issues of street children should not be a preserve only for the government but private and social organizations as well as individuals can play a part. The greater value we place on street children, I believe, the more we will be inspired to give them a voice and be a voice for them.
The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali.