Yemeni street children [Archives:2006/913/Last Page]

January 19 2006
Photo from archived article: photos/913/lastpage1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/913/lastpage1_1
By: Fatma AL-Ajel
The phenomenon of street children in Yemen can be traced back to the early 1990s, when the country endured a serious economic crisis. More than 30.000 children are now living as vagrants in the streets of Yemen, according to a study presented by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. Other studies show that the number is rapidly increasing.

The most common reasons that children are pushed to the streets are poverty and family conflicts. These children are mostly from the marginalized group of Akhdam (the servant class), children of the returnees from the first Gulf war, children of families who came from other govern orates and settled in Sana'a city, and children of poor families that live in Sana'a city.According to UNICEF's study, 58 percent of Yemen's street children wash cars and beg to get by. The remaining 42 percent work as hardware collectors, cattle grazers, vegetable sellers and the like.

The phenomenon of street children is a nationwide problem exacerbating by the deterioration of the economic situation in the country. On top of living on the street, the children acquire habits and conducts such as smoking and stealing.

The Safe Childhood Center (SCC) is one of the few centers in Yemen, that takes care of these children. The center can accommodate 30 kids, but that is not enough. Many children do not get help they need to become effective members of society.

Lack of cooperation

The SCC faces several difficulties. It lacks a suitable building to fit the increasing number of street children. “We have a small center for thirty children and because of this, we cannot provide help to more than thirty at a time,” says the manager of the center, Mrs. Haime. “Most of the women working in the center are volunteers. So we also need qualified male staff. The problem is that we do not have money to give your staff salaries,” she added.

Another important problem is that society does not seem to value the services offered by the center. Some official and charitable societies do not wish to cooperate with the SCC, so money is tight.

Even though the SCC could use more funding, there is support from different sides. The Ministry of Education contains the street kids in regular education despite the fact that these children have no birth certificates or schooling certificates. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor allocates money to cover expenditure of the center, monthly stipends to children and provide children with healthcare for free. The SCC also receive equipment, furniture and staff training with the help of different organizations.

Divorce and poverty

The statistics or figures related to divorce rates and the scant income of the head of the household are two of the primary reasons behind spread of the phenomenon of street kids, in addition to dropping out of school, deviant upbringing and bad social climate.

Yussen was eleven years old and living on the street, when he joined the center. “My father divorced and he married again. After a month of the marriage, my father drove me to the streets with my three brothers,” he says. The four children did not find a place to live in except the street. After one month, they went home, but unfortunately they found nobody there. “My father sold the house and went away. We do not know where to,” Yussen says.

Help to integrate

The SCC aims to provide full care for children, retrain them to be fully integrated in society, and help them in acquiring new skills. It also aims at developing the abilities and potentials of children and encouraging the society to contribute in making the project a success.

“Some of the children are illiterate, when they come to us. So, we teach them in the center and send them to study in the public schools,” says Mrs. Haime. “These children get excellent degrees in their schools,” she added.

The children living at the center are those who are exposed to physical or mental risk and are mainly between 6 and 16 years old. They are mostly homeless children who live under hard economic circumstances are the majority in the center. But also children who have been sexually and physically abused and children who have migrated from rural areas to cities come to the SCC.

The SCC has a list of requirements for the admission of children to the center as the applicant has to be homeless; from a morally deviated family; an orphan or he/she can be one who pursues low-paid professions to sustain their families.

Functions of the SCC

The center has varied and diverse functions and activities in the areas of education, health, religion, sports, entertainment and feeding. In the educational field, the center works on eradicating illiteracy and enrolling kids in government schools or vocational institutes to learn some professions from which they profit in the future. In the religious respect, the SCC registers children in summer camps to memorize the Quran and gain useful lessons in daily Quran sessions. Concerning the areas of health and sports, the center still suffers the lack of staff and health equipment. However, there are some sporting activities such the participation in sport clubs and football tournament.

The SCC staff supervises the activities of the center around the clock, as well as in the official vacations. The staff includes a supervisory committee that collects donations from donor organizations and philanthropists. Female specialists and teachers assess the behavior of children, direct them towards the best, write reports on the progress of children and train them before school enrollment.

With respect to the area of entertainment, the center coordinates trips and cultural contests for children while feeding in the center depends on the support of traders and donors.

The center has also launched illiteracy eradication centers for children who are deprived of regular education due to difficult living conditions, as well as for those who exceeded the school age without enrollment. The SCC has registers for the education of the children, their progress rate and their behaviors inside the building of the center.

A day at the center

In the summer vacation, a normal day at the center is scheduled to include both religious and entertaining activities. At 8:00 a.m. on the first day of vacation, kids go to the mosque and stay there until noon. Then they return to the center to watch T.V. until 2:00 p.m. At 5:00, kids practice different sporting activities in the field under the supervision of some specialists until the Sunset Prayer. After the Nightfall Prayer, they clean the center and then go to bed. On Thursdays, children are allowed to visit their families according to particular timetable.


Despite difficulties, there are a number of achievements reached by the center that are worth mentioning. These achievements are reflected in the educational progress of children and obtaining high rankings. Some illiterate children come from vocational institutes and join the center to learn as there are varied specializations inside the center, contributing to the organization and success of the center.

The SCC is also involved with the first documentary film on the phenomenon of street children in Yemen.