Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Invisible Army

As the world marked the International Day for Street Children last week, children in street situations served as a reminder of how one of the most marginalized groups in the world continues to be deprived of its basic rights, failed by governments, institutions and societies.

“No one treats us like human beings. They are always trying to punch and kick us,” says 11-year-old Soheil who ended up on Tehran's streets when he was eight to escape beatings of his mother. His friend, 13-year-old Jafar, loads bananas onto trucks in a fruit market. On a good day he makes about $2 for an entire day’s hard work. “One night when I was sleeping at the railway station, a person approached me. He said come with me, I said no I can’t go with you because I don’t know you. He hit me on my face.”

If you drive in Tehran, you probably get stuck in traffic too many times you won't miss the experience of having a conversation with street children.
"Buy your horoscope of the day. It's real, I swear." Hafiza, an Afghan girl living in Tehran says through the open window of my car.
"Take this 2 bucks and eat something." I tell her.
"Take all my horoscope packs, I can't go home not selling all of these." She sounds really honest. But I know somewhere deep down that her boss -downtown street children organizer- is waiting to take all her money so I just give her my bag of crisps and drive pass her.
This is the best you can see in a crowded capital like Tehran.
In Moscow and London, the story is more or less the same or even worse in some cases. I can't forget bumping into a street girl in a freezing night in Moscow's underground. The girl was roughly 16 years old and I gave her some spare cash I had with me. She begged me to buy her a specific brand of pills from the drugstore and when I asked why, she replied with a cracked voice. "I am a street worker and have just had a miscarriage, I need to stop the bleeding but the guy in the drugstore wouldn't sell me.

More stories of personal  experience with street children and labor children are better left unsaid as they need a separate post. On the International Day for Street Children, 12 April, we need to challenge these misconceptions. The factors that drive children to the streets are similar. Once on the streets, these children adopt many tactics necessary to survive such as begging, loitering and rough sleeping. Sadly, in many countries heavy-handed treatment by the authorities – such as violence and roundups – is all too common.

Being a street child is not a crime. Today we want people to stand up for the rights of street children all over the world.

By Elaheh Zohrevandi

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