Policymakers must do more to protect and support the rights of street children

Street children are among the 'most vulnerable and least protected' groups in the world and more must be done to give this crucial issue the attention and support it deserves, a roundtable discussion in the European parliament has heard.

By Des Hinton-Beales

12 Apr 2014

The event, organised by the Parliament Magazine in association with Aviva, was hosted by EPP deputy Gay Mitchell and looked at how member state and EU policymakers can support the rights of street connected children in Europe and across the world.

The international day for street children is marked every year on 12 April, providing a platform for children to assert their rights, and Mitchell underlined the importance of securing "official UN recognition" for the day.

"Street children in all parts of the world are at increased risk of physical and emotional harm," warned the Irish MEP, who praised Aviva for their street to school programme which has helped more than 800,000 children.

"We need to encourage others to get involved in corporate social responsibility," added Mitchell.

"Street children in all parts of the world are at increased risk of physical and emotional harm"  Gay Mitchell MEP

Also speaking at the event was UK MEP Jean Lambert, who said the "best interests of the child" must always be taken into consideration. "Some say that charity begins at home," said the Greens/EFA deputy, adding, "this is fine if you have a home. For these children the streets are their home."

Lambert stressed that with "no access to good nutrition, no access to education and no home and no stability in their life" street children were among the "most vulnerable and least protected" groups in the world.

"These are powerful social determinants," she said, adding that these children "need a good start" to their lives that they were being denied.

"We can see this problem very clearly and dramatically. There are also, in the EU too many children spending too much time connected to the streets."

Making a difference

Charlotte Brierley, who works in corporate responsibility for Aviva, said that, "Every child should have access to education and a brighter future," adding, "Aviva’s purpose is to free people from fear of uncertainty and perhaps no one faces more uncertainty than street children.”

"Our employees are committed to the initiative, they volunteered 25,000 hours of their time in 2013 and this had a significant impact on children's lives"  Aviva's Charlotte Brierley

Aviva were keen to create a legacy and worked with the consortium for street children to launch the international day for street children in 2011, and events, campaigns and individuals across more than 130 countries are currently involved.

"With the help of our partners, we pledged to help 500,000 children by 2015 and we achieved this two and a half years early. Our employees are committed to the initiative, they volunteered 25,000 hours of their time in 2013 and this had a significant impact on children's lives."

For Brierley, the day "shines a light on street children" and can act as a "catalyst for action and change" and promote "collaboration and coming together" on the issue of defending and promoting the rights of children.

Louise Meincke, advocacy director for the consortium for street children, also stressed the importance of highlighting the issue of street children, saying, it "not only deserves attention, but demands it".

"Street children need champions"  Advocacy director for the consortium for street children, Louise Meincke

"There are millions of children who call the streets their home - including in Europe - and they continue to fall through the gaps. We need to give them a platform to speak for themselves," she said.

Meincke stressed that these children had "fallen off the agenda for 20 years", but added that if the UN "officially recognises the day then this cannot happen again".

"Street children need champions," she added.

Breaking the cycle

Dima Yared, from the UN high commission for human rights regional office for Europe said there is a "global figure of 100 million street children, but we do not know the actual number".

For Yared, "The most complex challenge for street children is the perception of them. They are either victims or delinquents. We must strengthen national child protection programmes."

EU representative for SOS Children's Villages International Kélig Puyet said that it was vital to "break the cycle of disadvantage" that leads to the rights of street children being ignored or marginalised.

For Puyet, who warned that "across the EU, 26.5 million children are at risk of poverty and social exclusion", it was vital to ensure "child participation" in the process of asserting these rights.

"We must acknowledge the influence children have over their own situation," she said, highlighting the need for this issue to be given "priority at national level" as "while children are much more on the agenda, their rights are not really recognised".

Puyet underlined the importance of implementing integrated strategies, including access to adequate resources, access to affordable quality services and children’s right to participate, in line with the 2013 European commission recommendation ‘Investing in children – breaking the cycle of disadvantage’. "Recently, EU social affairs ministers called on EU member states to invest in children and young people. Implementation will now require concrete action to confront child poverty and social exclusion”.

She also stressed that there were "opportunities for better synergies between the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe".

"Even the most seemingly insurmountable problems can be overcome with political will"  Research and policy analyst for Focus Ireland, Wayne Stanley

Wayne Stanley, research and policy analyst for Focus Ireland - a leading national homeless NGO in Ireland - highlighted that since it was first established in 1985 Focus Ireland has campaigned for radical changes in the services offered to children who are out of home and that huge progress has been made in tackling the issue in his home country and there is now rapid provision of shelter to children who are out of home so children do not end up on the street. Stanley stressed the importance of identifying the issue and bringing it to the attention of the public and policymakers.

After working to promote the issues surrounding child homelessness, Stanley said that it had been possible to overcome the idea that "child homelessness was not a big issue". "Now, in Ireland, child street homelessness is all but eradicated."

"Even the most seemingly insurmountable problems can be overcome with political will," he concluded.

Read the most recent articles written by Des Hinton-Beales - Work accidents claiming 'more victims than war'

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