by Eric Beauchemin
A survey carried out in 2001 revealed that there are over 5000 children who make the streets of the capital, Luanda, their home. They range from babies to adolescents. Most are boys because girls are more likely to be taken in by foster families or as servants. The number of street children has been increasing in recent years, not only in Luanda but in towns and cities throughout Angola. Aid organisations hope that, with the return of peace and stability, the figures will start to decline.
There are a variety of reasons why so many children are winding up on the streets. "During the war," says Abubacar Sultan, the UNICEF child protection officer, "many children and adolescents fled the rural areas and conflict zones to join communities surrounding Luanda and the major provincial capitals. Others lost their parents during the fighting."Extreme poverty also forces many children onto the streets. "There is a lot of violence within families," says Father Horacio, "and many couples separate and get re-married. Step-parents tend to give preference to their own children when it comes to food and education. The step-children wind up having to do the hardest tasks, and many eventually run away."
There are many more children who are not officially considered street children, but who spend most of their time on the streets. According to Abubacar Sultan, "the majority of people in Luanda, a city of 4 million, are under the age of 18. We know that 50% of the city’s children are not attending school. That gives you an idea of how many children actually spend a good deal of their time on the streets, just trying to survive."
Everyone agrees that there are no easy solutions to the problem of street children. Providing services to these children is essential, believes Abubacar Sultan, "but we also need to address the root causes, and that is a complex challenge. We have to reduce poverty and re-establish the role of the family in Angolan society." That will require a much greater effort on the part of the Angolan government and the donor community, he admits, "but at least now with peace we can start rebuilding the lives of these children."