The future for street children
Most people turn their heads away as they pass by, hoping not to register the sight of the four or five-year-old kids playing happily in the stinking squalor of the rubbish tip of thrown away fruit.
It is the fruit wholesale market near Kyimyindine jetty and the fruit can be seen on sale in ramshackle and decrepit houses. A lot of seasonal fruits such as watermelons, jackfruits and bananas as well as damaged fruits, which are not marketable anymore, are usually piled up in what is in effect a garbage dump.
The smell is rank. The only happiness these street children can enjoy is eating these discarded fruits with their dirty hands. They can be seen eating the rejected watermelons happily and kidding each other. Not far away from them, older children in their early teens, act as guardians, and can be seen arguing over how to split up the fish they have caught today.
The smiles and jokes hide a tough reality – these kids don’t have a family and don’t have a future. They lack education. They lack the basic knowledge about hygiene. They eat discarded food, even though it might make them ill.
And they lack discipline – failing to move and shouting back at elders from the nearby huts who come to try to drive them away. Homeless, with no place to sleep, they get by as best they can.Some learn how to survive as beggars. Some learn how to earn their living as rag pickers.
Some slip of the tracks, sniffing glue or resorting to petty crime such as pickpocketing or other forms of theft. And we learn that the number of these kids is increasing. Officials claimed in their 100-day scheme when the new government came in that they would clean up the streets of these kids, some being sent to juvenile shelters or even juvenile correction centres. But there is little to indicate this “clean up” had any significant effect.
Street children are typically orphans or disowned children. Street children sent to juvenile shelters are regarded as vulnerable children under section 32 of the Juvenile Act.
In the Yangon Region, there are 70 shelters for these children, run to try to reduce the number of kids left to fend for themselves on the streets. According to media reports, over 7,500 street children in the age group of 8-18 are provided shelter and food in these juvenile shelters and homes.
It is unclear at this stage whether the authorities have a clear plan as to how to look after these children and put them on the path to rehabilitation. These kids are part of Myanmar’s future. Even the kids caught breaking the law should be put on the path to a better future.