Sulayman Makalo, The Gambia
The Director of Social Welfare Fanta Ceesay has described poverty; low income, non-literate families and poor living conditions as common factors responsible for the presence of street children in the Gambia.
She said some families cannot meet most of their basic requirements for food and shelter, and as a consequence, the developmental growth of children is severely affected. “This primarily makes poverty and domestic violence as major factors pushing children onto the streets,” she said.
However, Mrs Ceesay added that unwanted pregnancies, which are normally caused by poverty, sometimes lead to baby dumping and therefore escalates the presence of children on the streets.
The Director of Social Welfare stated that although no survey has been done to determine the specific number of street children in the Gambia but approximately 3 percent of the street children spend both day and night on the streets. “In terms of experiencing abuse on the streets, 45 percent said they were beaten, with 53 percent of child labourers having experienced beating, physical abuse and violence,” she noted.
Mrs Ceesay highlighted that the phenomenon of abandoned children was not as rampant as it was alluded to by some quarters but there was a phenomenon of dumping children in the Gambia from neighbouring countries. She said the Gambian law stipulated that children under 7 years of age found abandoned were to be considered Gambians. “The government had found out that mobile schools were effective with street children, particularly those who had dropped out of regular schools and as a result they were some times enrolled,” she told The African Star.
The Coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) Jalamang Camara said street children are commonly seen as working children, children with disabilities (also known as Almudos) and dumped or abandoned children although there are ethnic, gender and urban-rural variations in the factor that determine the presence of children on the street.
He said the history of Street children also known as Almudos (generally aged 8 to 15) is dated back to the era of Jihad (Holy Wars) in the Senegambia regions fought by Marabouts or Islamic Scholars who were viewed as liberators rather than conquerors. “These boys are attached to these people to learn the Muslim scrip Koran from them and pay him for his teaching by sharing the proceeds of their daily begging,” he added.
He described street children as always vulnerable to diseases. “As the Gambia is a malaria endemic country and it seems that the country is loosing the battle against the disease that affected 47 percent of the population including children, street children are always at high risk of getting the disease,” he noted. However, Mr Camara according to UNAIDS report, 9600 AIDS orphans are in the Gambia of which some are street children.
However the focal person of the Child Protection Unit at the Department of State for Justice Marie Saine said the whole society is to be blame for the presence of children on the streets. “If the Islamic Scholars for instance knows that they cannot cater and care for the children given to them to educate, why accepting them,” she rhetorically asked.
She said there is an urgent need for comprehensive and quantitative research to form the basis for future programmes; a national stakeholders’ forum to collaborate in mapping out intervention strategies. She added that more effective networking and collaboration, mass awareness raising and sensitisation programme by the media, establishment of safe houses, study tours to and from other countries to share expertise will help in curbing the situation of street children in the Gambia.