Opinion

The life and the plight of street children in Juba

By Emelda Siama John

In the recent years,Juba City, the capital of South Sudan has been experiencing the problem of the street children, a problem attributed to long civil war and the current economic and the political crises which started in 2013.

A street child is any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood from whom the street has become her or his habitual abode or source of livelihood and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by irresponsible adult.

A survey conducted by Juba Monitor found out that; children as young as six years old were living miserable life of surviving without a provider. Many have to endure mistreatment from cruel members of public who would hit them with a slap or any other if they intercepted them to ask for money to buy food.

In the three market centres of Konyokonyo, Custom and Juba Town, children aged between 6 and 17 swarm garbage heaps as they search through for metallic objects or plastic bottles to sell to buy food.

In Konyokonyo Market, 9-year-old James Deng sniffs an adhesive-repair glue (the one normally used for repairing shoes and tyres) while seated under a veranda with a dozen of his colleagues near the bus park.

He says after a friend of his lured him into coming to Konyokonyo market supposedly to meet his dad but only to be told that his dad had passed away under unknown circumstances by the same friend, the street became his new home and has since never seen his mother and siblings for about a year now.

“A friend of mine told me to come with him to see my dad in Juba but when we reached Konyokonyo, he told me that my dad had died. He didn’t explainto me what happened to my dad.He immediately abandoned me here in Konyokonyo. I tried to find my way back home but I could not remember the way back,” he said.

“Our house is along Yei road. Life in the street is not easy, sometimes big boys would beat you up and no one will help you,” he added regretting that he had listened to his deceitful friend.

Marial Riak says he lives in Juba Town. His right hand is swollen and he said he cannot see a doctor because they may “cut it off”. He insists that someone must have cast a spell over him to give the swelling on his hand.

He says after being recruited in the army at a young age in 2016, his hand started developing the protracted swelling so he asked for a leave to seek for medication but he found himself living in the street since then.

“I got enrolled in the army in 2016. I went to Rejaf training center but this swelling started, so I took a leave to come for treatment. I knew this was bewitching and I realized that if I go to the doctors, they would cut off my hand so I decided not to go. I will visit a traditional shrine one day and it will disappear,” he explained.

“Life is very difficult here in the street. Here we steal and that’s a lot of risks but we do it to survive. It’s a lot of dangerous hustle but that’s how we survive,” he said while friends who sat around him nodded in approval of his assertion.

Abu Malesh says he does not know his age but apparently, he is the youngest among friends who were sniffing the shoe glue while scavenging for plastic bottles and metal scraps in a heap of rubbish in Custom Market.

“I am not living well here; life is difficult here since I joined last year,” he said, avoiding an eye contact.

“My older brother used to beat me every time I do a mistake. Here I sleep anywhere, I can’t find a shelter, it’s not easy, not easy at all,” he said.

Most of these street children say they wish to be like the rest of the children, attending schools, living decent life if there was anyone to help.

According to ‘Consortium for Street Children’, child streetism is emerging and growing at alarming rate in South Sudan following the recent civil war.

It cited that factors such as war-induced displacement, family disruption, economic constraints, mistreatment at home, lack of access to education and child-related behavioral factors drive children to the streets.

It added that once these children find themselves in the street, they find themselves exposed to a living arrangement that deprive them of parental care and supervision, disruption of developmentally-constructive routines, substance abuse and health concerns.

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