A GUEST POST BY LOUISE MEINCKE, ADOVCACY MANAGER, CONSORTIUM FOR STREET CHILDREN When Plan International recently published their fourth Because I am a Girl report a large part of it was dedicated to the issue of girls living and working on the streets around the world. Why? Because adolescent girls on the street are some of the most vulnerable individuals in any city. Although often hidden from view, they are at high risk of abuse and sexual violence and exploitation, and least able to protect themselves – and often it is the very people who are supposed to protect them that abuse them.
UNICEF has estimated that there are at least 100 million street children worldwide, although no one really knows. Recent developments suggest that there is an increasing presence of girls on the streets. Sexual violence and exploitation, pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, disproportionally affects more girls than boys living on the streets. As 14 year old Sala from Accra, Ghana says in the report: “I’ve also had to experience violence myself. I’ve gotten into a fight with another street girl over a client and at times have had clients punch me. Even things like using the public toilet are scary as you can be attacked there. I know I could go to the police if needed but there are times when it is better to keep quiet; like when a pimp demands sex, it is easier to submit than to face violence. Plus, sometimes the police are just as violent as the gangs; once when I was arrested a police officer hit me on the head with the butt of his gun”. Many street girls have to sell their bodies for sex in order to survive and even feed their children. Tanya in Zimbabwe said in the report: “A lot of men from the general public or from nearby offices come to the river. These then solicit sex from girls… A man comes and picks whoever they want to have sex with. If I am picked, I leave my child with the other girls and take the client down to the river.” It is part of an increasing phenomenon of girls giving birth whilst on the street, and of 2nd or even 3rd generations of street children growing up without ever having known a different kind of life. In partnership with Plan International the Consortium for Street Children recently organised a meeting in Parliament hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children which focused specifically on the issue of street girls. Through video links we were able to hear testimonies from female street outreach workers in Zimbabwe and former street girls in South Africa. As part of the meeting the Street Girls Manifesto was launched, and we were delighted that the International Police Association pledged their support to future dialogue and engagement on the issue. It is difficult to imagine a harder life than that of being a child on the street in an urban environment. Yes, it is obvious that the worst would be a girl on the street in an urban environment. Multilateral organisations, bilateral donors, governments and NGOs must therefore structure responses to street children by also taking into account the specific needs and issues affecting girls living on the street.