Editorial | End blind eye to begging
The Child Development Agency (CDA) is finally getting around to intervening in the lives of children who are on Jamaica's streets where they beg, sell, steal and continue the cycle of poverty into which they were born. Urgent intervention in the lives of these children is long overdue, so that they escape the hardships, abuse and exploitations of the streets and be placed into a nourishing environment where they are well-fed, cared for, and given opportunities of hope.
To the extent that we continue to see so many children spend their childhood trying to survive on the streets where they beg, forage for food, and exhibit antisocial behaviour, is an indictment on the CDA and other agencies, both private and public, which continue to express interest in the development of the next generation.
People complain that many of these children, windscreen wipers, for example, are aggressive and sometimes rude in their approach. This leads to stigmatisation by members of the public, which translates into further isolation of these children.
So the CDA, in reacting to complaints about the activities of the children, has identified some of their parents and relatives and is actively discussing with them their responsibility with a view of reuniting them with their children and keeping them at home. We see this as a small but important step in trying to change the mindset of poor families. However, only time will tell how well moral suasion will work in these situations?
Children are pushed to street living by a number of factors, such as poverty, neglect, abandonment and abuse. Often, their parents or other family members are not able to provide appropriate care. And on the streets, they find a new family and they bond together and provide succour for one another in what is often a dangerous existence.
In some cases, the families actually depend on these children to provide money for food, medication and other necessities. They are de facto breadwinners for the family and usually do not have access to education, so they become trapped in begging or low-income, low-skilled employment.
Poverty alleviation has to be a first step to improving the lives of the families so that they can do better by their children. Hopefully, the CDA will start a national conversation that will result in consensus that these vulnerable children need greater protection and services.
But there is clear protection for children under the Child Care and Protection Act, which makes it a criminal offence to abuse a child. The prosecution of family members who commit violations against their children is rarely seen. There is an urgency to sustain the momentum being created by the CDA by investigating and punishing persons who abuse and neglect children.
Meantime, the population of street children and homeless youth is growing, particularly in the Corporate Area and in some rural townships.
Jamaica has ratified all major conventions on children's rights and is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges the country to promote and protect children's right to education, access to health care, and the right to be safe from violence, among other rights. Clearly this is not being applied to the dozens we see eking out a living at popular street corners and in supermarket car parks and plazas.
The country continues to fail its children, including those who are murdered or abused. We believe street children need special legal protection and there also needs to be strengthened surveillance of this vulnerable group.