Why development agencies must not allow street children to get left behind in the Sustainable Development Goals.
A post by Caroline Ford, Chief Executive of Consortium for Street Children.
International Development agencies sure have a lot on their plates lately. From extreme poverty to conflict to urban crowding to health crises around the world, it seems that development organizations and workers are being asked to do more, fund more and analyse more. Is it any wonder that development agencies and donors are responding by making tough decisions on which issues to focus on, and which ones they must reluctantly decline?
I am the Chief Executive of a wonderful little organization that brings together NGOs around the globe who have one focus in mind – street children. We work tirelessly to highlight the seemingly intractable forces which pull and push children to the street, and the ways that they are treated once they find themselves there – and to propose long term solutions for change. I believe that it is possible to address these issues within the wider development and human rights frameworks and agenda, and to do so in a way that addresses the needs of children and delivers solid development outcomes at the same time.
While 20 years ago there was a lot of media attention on street children, one could almost be forgiven if they now thought that children no longer had to grow up or suffer on the streets. Our attention is diverted constantly by climate change, disasters, conflict and other crises on a global scale. Every organization, in order to have any chance of success and survival, has had to draw up strategies and plans that keep them in the public eye and on global agendas. Upon taking over the helm of Consortium for Street Children last year from 25 years working in international development and human rights, I was shocked to learn just how many agencies have excluded street children from their priorities. I understand the need to prioritise – but I am arguing that focussing on street children allows us all to further our development and human rights goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals – the core principle of development for the next decade – were drawn up in part to ensure a concerted global effort and commitment to Leaving No One Behind. Most, if not all, development agencies subscribe to this. Leaving anyone behind is the antithesis to both human rights and development. Many agencies believe they are successful in this endeavour. And certainly most development organizations are not leaving behind the children that they can see and count, and invest significant portions of their annual budgets to programming for children.
However, at CSC we know that street children are often the most invisible. As well as being hard to find and track, often they have a vested interested in ensuring they are not counted if being counted means being at risk of arrest or abuse. They may have to move on frequently and not stay in one place if remaining still means they are likely to be rounded up. And when they are seen, some development agencies have remarked that they are mostly boys – meaning that even amongst the invisible, girls are even more so.
If street children are not seen, not counted, how can they possibly be included in programmes aimed at visible children? How can they benefit from the development programmes that are often very successful? If they cannot enrol at a new school that has just been built by a charity because they don’t have a birth certificate, then they are being left behind. If they cannot enter a health clinic if not accompanied by a parent then they are being left behind. If they are routinely detained just for begging or sleeping in the open, how can access to justice programmes serve them?
I state this because although these children may not be counted at this moment, they can still be accounted for. While our new campaign “The 4 Steps to Equality” tells governments the steps they need to take to fully promote and protect street children’s rights, the Consortium for Street Children calls on development agencies, donors and human rights organizations to also promote and protect street children’s’ rights to development – and to focus on ensuring they are included in all their health, education, livelihoods and justice programmes and are not left behind.
In short, when striving to leave no one behind, we must proactively strive to plan for the most vulnerable, and make our strategic plans and priorities from there. Because development and human rights protection without street children is no development or protection at all.
Caroline Ford is the Chief Executive of CSC, a network of over 100 organizations working at the grassroots with street children around the world. She has worked in development, humanitarian crises and human rights in Africa, Asia and the Balkans for 25 years, and now resides in London.
Equality for street children starts here. Let’s make it happen.