Child homelessness in Mogadishu threatens social stability

By Majid Ahmed in Mogadishu

November 07, 2012

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As the forgotten victims of violence and famine in Somalia, street children in Mogadishu are subject to a multitude of degradations, such as disease, drug use and sexual violence -- problems activists say threaten social stability.

  • A boy sits on a pile of garbage in Mogadishu. Street children often sleep in the capital's destroyed buildings and on street corners. [Majid Ahmed/Sabahi]

    A boy sits on a pile of garbage in Mogadishu. Street children often sleep in the capital's destroyed buildings and on street corners. [Majid Ahmed/Sabahi]

  • Many street children are subject to drug use and become victims of crime. The boy in the centre is inhaling a bottle of glue. [Majid Ahmed/Sabahi]

    Many street children are subject to drug use and become victims of crime. The boy in the centre is inhaling a bottle of glue. [Majid Ahmed/Sabahi]

While there are no official statistics on the number of street children, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and local aid agencies estimated in 2008 that at least 5,000 children live on Mogadishu's streets.

"It seems their numbers grow day after day," said Mohamed Nur Salad of the Child Protection Network, an advocacy group for children. "There are currently thousands of children between the ages of seven and 16 who live on the streets of Mogadishu, most of whom are boys."

"Many of these children live in miserable conditions, permanently or semi-permanently taking shelter on the street and in abandoned buildings," he told Sabahi. "Many use drugs, which has created a security and social threat."

To provide for their daily needs, many street children perform menial jobs such as shoe shining and car washing, while others collect garbage or qat remnants to sell back to addicts.

Salad said street children are exposed to psychological and physical aggression, mistreatment, and exploitation when they sleep on the streets at night. "But even more dangerous is the fact that on the streets, these children become easy prey for radical groups that recruit them for terrorist activity," he said.

Salad called on the government and non-governmental organisations active in children's rights to take immediate steps to solve this problem before it escalates.

Poverty and broken families force children into the streets

"Constant displacement, homelessness, poverty and family disintegration are among the main and direct factors that have forced children to live on the streets over the past few years," said Abdisamad Abdullahi, a children's rights activist at Kalmo, a non-profit organisation based in Mogadishu.

He said many orphans are forced to live on the streets. Poverty and broken families also play a major role in making the streets the "last resort and a logical alternative for children".

"When these children grow up on the streets, they are more likely to join criminal gangs or become victims of drug dealing," he said, adding that they must be integrated into society to prevent this fate.

Mohamed Deeq Hassan, 14, said he started living on the street after losing both his parents five years ago.

"I lost my parents when I was nine years old and there was no one to take care of me so I started living on the streets," he told Sabahi. "Life on the streets is very cruel but I cannot find any other place to live."

Hassan said he sniffs glue for its brief relief from his suffering. "When I sniff glue I can forget for a while the harsh conditions in which I live and I feel a kind of imaginary happiness," he said. "I can imagine I am on the moon and I sometimes dream of being in Europe or America and I forget all the problems I have in Mogadishu."

The first shelter for street children

To ease the suffering of street children, Mogadishu-based Social Development Organisation, a religious group that focuses on providing support and services to displaced Somalis, has opened the first centre in Mogadishu to help street children.

Mawahib Centre houses around 80 street children, most of whom are orphans between seven and 14 years old, and provides them with medical care, food, clothing and education, according to the centre's director Omar Ahmed.

"When we noticed that the problem was getting worse, we decided to open a centre to shelter and rehabilitate street children," said director Omar Ahmed. "This is a step to lessen the impact of being homeless and lost for these children."

"All Somalis -- both the people and the government -- have to work towards saving the lives and futures of these children who can be found throughout the streets of Mogadishu," he told Sabahi. "We are all responsible and we have to fulfil our religious and national duty to reintegrate them into society and turn them into a positive human force instead of a ticking bomb that could go off at any moment."

"If these children are rehabilitated, they will be the leaders of the future," he said. "But if we leave them in the streets, we will have a lost generation of Somali people."

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Reader's Comments

  • naadiya
    December 12, 2012 @ 08:36:13AM

    I am in support of my brother Khadar; the boy who has written the last page. Street children exist everywhere in this world but we are not to exaggerate while having a particular interest in these children. Brothers, only God helps but we will also help them the much we can. I would like to tell those of you who post these pictures to stop doing such things to the children because it is not good for the children's morale.

  • Somalische Komitee Germany
    December 2, 2012 @ 06:42:26AM

    Peace on you Brothers and sisters we are looking to assist collectively the suffering Somali children in Mogadishu. CONTACT US FOR THE SAME GOD WILLING

  • jared
    November 9, 2012 @ 07:03:54AM

    friend in need is afriend in deed.so government and kenyans atlarge should work hand in hand in order to eradicate this as two heads are better

  • burhaan maxamed 0025290706555
    November 8, 2012 @ 10:12:24AM

    I think this is a real article that carries meaning. That shows there are still some people working on sensitization programs. Thank you and may God dignify you; as a writer.

  • Samwel Lupimo
    November 8, 2012 @ 04:16:15AM

    The government of Mogadishu must strive to restore happiness and peace to those children and it is not only Mogadishu's responsibility but even the whole world should look very keenly at that issue of street children in different countries

  • magacaygu waa khadarbaashe (abwaan)
    November 8, 2012 @ 03:28:36AM

    Those of you who posted the pictures of the street children on the websites are crazy because you should have done something for them if you can, so don’t a shame us. A government that posts the pictures of its people on to websites was never seen in this world and that is not good for us as Somalis. Thanks.

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