Neither homeless people nor street children are not new to Addis Ababa. They have existed for decades along with the growing urbanization in the country. Now it is believed that there are more than 150,000 street children and homeless people in Ethiopia and more than half of them live on the streets of the capital. The problem is far from over, even after the rehabilitation programs implemented by the city administration, federal government, and NGOs. EBR’s Kiya Ali writes.
There was not a time when Desta Abera, 17, led a decent life free from stressing about her survival. Raised by her father in Dessie, a town in the state of Amhara, Desta lost her mom when she was a kid. After a while, her father died as well.
That was not easy for Desta, who was just 14 and had no relatives who could take care of her. So she fled to Addis Ababa and joined thousands of children living on the street. Soon after however, the 17-year old teenager experienced the most gruesome moment of her entire life. Desta got raped by a drunk person, whose face she can hardly remember. “He took my virginity and impregnated me. That broke me apart. I became hopeless, depressed, and I knew this was just the beginning,” says Desta, who has been living on the street for the past three years. “I am extremely unsure what I will face tomorrow.”
Of course, the streets of Addis Ababa have never welcomed people like Desta with benevolence. From day one many street children experience abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Many are being repeatedly raped, beaten, and forced to lose their belongings on a daily basis “There is no justice on the street,” says Desta in frustration.
Street children have become a permanent feature of most urban landscapes in many developing nations. It is no different in Ethiopia where poverty has multiple horrors and manifestations, one of which is the outgrowth of street children. Many children like Desta are left alone on account of losing their parents to various reasons like sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/ AIDS and ethnic conflicts, among other reasons.
Different studies show that both street girls and boys have risky sexual activities that make them vulnerable to HIV infection. The studies noted that in addition to consensual sex with their opposite sex partner, street boys engaged in commercial sex with adult males. Bochera, whose real name is withheld upon request, is a 19 year-old homosexual street boy who has passed through the same challenge. He was repeatedly subjected to various forms of abuses, from beatings to sexual violence since he started living on the streets of Piassa, in the center of the capital. “We are always considered as naughty boys by the society. We are denied the love and respect that we deserve, in contrast to the norms and values that society claims to have. That is why I dare to exchange sex for security and generate money. It is more of a survival issue for me,” Bochera says.
The living experiences of Bochera and Desta are just the tip of the iceberg. The life of children on the streets is miserable, full of hardship, and is characterized by lack of food, shelter, security, legal protection, among others. Currently, some 150,000 children live on the streets in Ethiopia with 60,000 of them in the capital, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA). However, aid agencies estimate that the problem may be far more serious, with nearly 600,000 street children in the regions and another 100,000 in Addis Ababa. Both push and pull factors lead children to the street life. Push factors include domestic violence, poverty, unemployment, poor family relationships, and divorce. Pull factors are expected income from begging, freedom, accessibility of drugs, peer pressure and a sense of belongingness. Street children create groups which act like family with a head who coordinates the action of the members.
To tackle the problem of homelessness, various initiatives are underway by different entities, including the Addis Ababa City Administration. However, some doubt its sustainability citing implementation gaps observed during the execution of similar programs in the past. In this regard, the latest program launched by the city administration is targeted at rehabilitating 50,000 street children with an estimated budget of ETB100 million. During the first phase, the plan was to rehabilitate 10,000 children. MoLSA and the city administration will equally contribute to the rehabilitation fund for the street children. To this end, the administration will provide 4,000 street children with training to enable them able to create their own jobs and has launched a trust fund to provide shelter and basic needs for thousands of other street children and homeless people who live on the street.
While the effectiveness of the project is yet to be seen, the number of street children is increasing every day. In fact, one of the fueling factors is the project itself as it prompts many children living in the regions to join these rehabilitation camps. With the increase in the number of street children in camps, the city administration in cooperation with MoLSA was forced to return the children to their region of origin. The continuation of the project is also in doubt as it is yet to be institutionalized and the rehabilitation camps are not built in a way that is accommodative to the interests of the street children and homeless people. “Street children have distinct behaviors but camp administrators do not treat them in accordance with this,” says an officer who closely follows the rehabilitation program.
Similar problems have been observed during previous rehabilitation programs as has been witnessed by Negash Bedada, former media director of Elshaday Relief and Development Association, which has worked in previous rehabilitation programs. While working at the association, he even noticed that street children are highly vulnerable to homosexuality. “Some of the street children engage in homosexual activity after being raped while others choose it as a way of life. But their sexual orientation is not cause for discrimination at the center,” Negash tells EBR. “We used to provide counseling service to prevent drug-taking and engagement in sexual activities that are against societal norms. Even before they get into the center, they will be screened for health problems.”
Understanding such problems, the government is partnering with NGOs and community-based organizations to improve the livelihood of street families and relocate them. “We are currently working with NGOs and international organizations to rehabilitate 22,000 street boys and girls within three years. But the problem is far from over as the number of street children continually increases with no end in sight,” says Tesfaye Shiferaw, Safety Nets Development group leader at MoLSA.
To avert this, Abeya Wakwoya, program director at Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus’ Development and Social Services Commission, suggests that constant follow-up must be implemented to prevent children from getting back on the street. “Equally, projects targeted at addressing the root causes of the problem must be implemented.”
8th Year • Nov.16 – Dec.15 2019 • No. 80