In my first article as a Child Reporter I would like to address an alarming trend – street children. In Lubumbashi, a town in the Haut-Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more and more children who have been abandoned by or separated from their parents are ending up on the streets. When you walk around Lubumbashi, you come across these street children every ten metres. Many people are concerned about this situation because these children are said to be dangerous and aggressive. To find out more about their situation, I decided to go and speak to them.
“I have to live like this”
Near the town’s main market, I spot a group of about ten children. One young girl catches my attention. Sophia, nicknamed Bébé Rico, is fifteen. As soon as we start talking, I realise that Sophia hasn’t eaten for two days because the restaurant where she finds leftovers hasn’t been open. I only have 500 Congolese francs on me, but this small sum is enough to take dull her hunger.
The young girl quickly starts to tell me her story and how she ended up on the streets. “I used to be the happiest girl around,”recalls Sophia,“but when I was ten, I lost my father in a road accident. My stepmother took everything we had and told me to go and live somewhere else,” continues the young girl. Sophia hasn’t been back to the family home since. “I’d heard that people didn’t have it as tough in Lubumbashi, so I jumped on a train to get here,” explains the young girl. “It’s not easy on the streets,”admits Sophia.“You have to beg or steal to get a bite to eat.
Nights are the toughest part for Sophia.“I sleep outdoors, I don’t have a blanket to keep me warm in the cold,”explains the young girl. Each evening, Sophia drinks alcohol and takes drugs in an attempt to cope with her terrible situation. “Sometimes, men pick me up after they’ve been out at a night club, they take me home after having taken advantage of me.” Sophia doesn’t have anyone to protect her on the streets. “I have to live like this because if I don’t, I’ll starve to death,” concludes the young girl.
How can a child cope with the burden of this kind of misery?
Sophia’s situation is far from unique. More than 1,500 children live on the streets in Lubumbashi alone (survey by the Haut-Katanga Child Protection Group). Practical steps need to be taken to support children from broken homes. When possible, these children should return to their families. When this isn’t possible, centres that can take care of them under the terms of Article 20 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child need to be built.
Each child has the right to be protected, fed and educated so that their dreams can come true. Without support, these children’s dreams will never come true. Sophia wants to become President of the Republic, but how can she achieve that if she’s living on the streets and not going to school?
Translated from French by Johanna McCalmont