They are all over the streets. They’re the ones who break your heart when dressed in sandals and light soaked clothes on a rainy day; Or any other day. They’re usually holding signs, tapping on your car window or sitting in their mother’s lap on the sidewalk. “They” have first names but no last names. They are the seen-unseen street children.
If you pass by the same street every day, you see the same faces, and the same process occurs inside of your head. At first, you ignore them by rationalizing that their parents are exploiting them for financial gain. Then, this small voice inside of your head tells you how they did not sign up for this and are just victims of their own fate. Suddenly, you end up finding yourself buying something to feed them. At least, you will be certain that the food will feed the kids and not their parents’ wallets. You definitely know that the money never helps them out. It encourages this business of organized crime and they’ll remain on the streets, especially if profits increase. While your mind is trying to process things, you start asking yourself about their whereabouts, to whom do they belong to and why are they unprotected. They come from somewhere but in reality, they could be from anywhere. Someone is responsible for them, who will be held accountable. You start pointing fingers in all directions, on any institution your brain can come up with. After all these inner debates between your heart and brain, you fail to announce a verdict and you forget about reality as soon as you’re off the street.
Truth is, you’ve tried to do something about it several times but found out that, at the end of the day, you were encouraging the system by doing so. Even though your intention was a nobly driven and generous one. Here is the story of what my colleague found out the other day. The weather was cold and some street children were wearing sandals. She decided to buy them boots to keep them warm. The next day, when she bumped into the same kids, she saw them wearing boots different from the ones she bought while holding their sandals in their hands. After a few inquiries, she discovered that the “parents” had sold the boots and sent the kids back out with the sandals on purpose. The new set of boots were given by someone else who had the exact same noble intention. While you thought you were helping out, you were in fact contributing to a vicious cycle.
Privilege and poverty are neighbors. They bump into each other all the time. In fact, they feed off each other all over the world. However, street children need protection. We need to implement a system that will safeguard their rights. The legal system needs to recognize that they are human beings. They should be in schools. They should sleep under a roof in a warm bed. Their legal guardians should be competent and responsible. Don’t you wonder sometimes what it would be like if you were in their sandals? Would you even survive? Would you be able to stand alone, cold till 4 a.m. selling a rose to a youthful couple? You have a voice but you don’t use it. They wish they had one. Why don’t you lend them your voice after getting off the street and its reality that’s filed in your storage compartment of “not my problem”?
Marie-line Rizk is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.