The economic and social situation of street children: A study [Archives:2006/959/Reportage]

June 29 2006

Mohammed Al-Jabri
Sana'a University sociology professor Abdo Ali Othman has prepared a study on the social and economic situations of Sana'a street children. Funded by UNICEF-Sana'a and assisted by several researchers, the field study was conducted on a sample of 635 street children.

According to the study, most street children in Sana'a city are considered working children, as a large number of them are rural, coming to work in Sana'a during summer vacation so they can help or support their poor families. The field study's results showed that working children are the majority whereas begging children, homeless children and those who combine work and begging all come in second, while number the least is a particular group of street children (foundlings, the lost, etc.)

Most street children work or beg by themselves because most perform marginal work, which mainly is individual, or private work. Work is considered an individual activity but a small number of children work for others.

The study clarified that the working children group receives the highest income, compared to other groups, including those who combine working and begging or more than two types of work. The reason for this is because working street children are the eldest among all street children groups.

Most street children stated that a large part of their income contributes to their families' needs. It's indicated that 92.9 percent of children whose families live in Sana'a city assist their families financially; whereas 85 percent of children whose families live outside Sana'a assist their families financially.

Socially speaking, street children largely are exposed to practices and behaviors that are against the law and the social value system. Some are homosexuals and some (both males and females) are sexually assaulted or raped, while many take drugs and some others practice prostitution. Nevertheless, some criminal-oriented gangsters use children to steal or deal drugs, as well as facilitate prostitution acts.

Homeless children are liable to acquire other types of deviant behavior and attitudes like lying, deception, trickery, running away from school, smoking, chewing qat, taking drugs and oral sexual acts.

According to the study's data and statistics, street children's relations with their families are characterized by solidarity, cooperation and mutual scrutiny. But some families experience instability due to marriage problems.

Some fathers believe the street children phenomenon isn't caused by family problems, but rather by poverty. During a focus group discussion, one father explained, “I was married to four wives. We had no problems, although each wife gave birth to a child per year. After my economic situation worsened, I divorced three of them. Now I don't know where my kids are. I only have the kids from the fourth wife and they dropped out of school. They work and beg and the reason is poverty.”

Educational situation

For the most part, the family decides whether or not to enroll children in basic education, depending on the social and economic situations. It also depends more on family members' attitudes toward education than the child's willingness to learn.

The field study survey indicated that 62.9 percent of children in the sample were enrolled in school, which is a very low percentage compared to the enrolment rate of children aged 6-15 in Sana'a city during the 1994-95 academic year.

Representing 62.9 percent of the total number of children in the survey, 401 were enrolled in school. Among those, 56 (representing 14 percent) indicated that they didn't want to stop working and/or begging, while 345 (representing 86 percent) stated that they do want to quit working and/or begging so they can attend school.

The problem with street children is that they suffer from low levels of achievement in school. Most obtain weak results on their exams and the failure of many of them is repeated.

The study attributed street children's low school enrolment to poverty. Other factors include the nature of the school curriculum, the nature of the relationship between the school and the family and between teachers and students.

The education currently available in schools suffers various aspects of deficiency which contribute to increased dropout rates. From the perspective of street children and their families, such deficiencies can be summarized as follows:

– Lack of social workers in schools

– Low levels of teacher efficiency and using severe methods to punish students

– Lack of facilities and necessary educational media in schools

– Crowded classrooms

– The government doesn't provide school operational equipment

– Education is costly

– Teachers themselves sometime are absent from school and inefficient in their tasks