Germany is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe. Yet thousands of children are living on the streets, according to the children’s relief organization Terre des Hommes (TDH).
"We have observed this development in Germany for the past 10 years," TDH director Peter Mucke told the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Thursday. "In this time, the number of street children has grown significantly."
Mucke quoted statistics by the German Ministry for Family Affairs, which estimates that there are up to 7,000 children living on the country’s streets.
The gap between rich and poor is growing
Mucke said the problem was particularly pronounced in larger cities, such as Hamburg and Berlin, where tdh also has projects for street children.
"In Hamburg, you can see children who hang around on the streets all day long, but also in part live on the streets at night, too," Mucke said. The street children included those who have completely left home and those who live on the street all day but have a shelter for the night.
According to Mucke, the growing gap between rich and poor in Germany was to blame.
"It’s a similar phenomenon as in developing countries, in which a few profit from growing wealth and, at the same time, a lot of people become poorer," Mucke said. He added that weakening family ties and stability also played a role.
German society faces a breakdown
If this situation continued, a ghettoization of the rich could result in Germany, Mucke said. This was already the case in many developing countries.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Organizations like the Lindenhaus in Dresden give shelter to homeless youth
"There, the rich often live completely insulated from the poor," Mucke said. "This results in a downright break in society."
Some 2.5 million children under the age of 18 live below the poverty line in Germany, according to government figures. The Federal Statistics Office warned last month that a further 1.7 million children are in danger of falling into poverty, largely due to their parents’ unemployment.
Helping children quickly
Osnabrück-based TDH Germany celebrates its 40th anniversary on Monday. It was founded on Jan. 8, 1967, to help children injured in the Vietnam War. The Terre des Hommes movement was started in Switzerland in 1960.
"The images of the war in Vietnam robbed us of our sleep," said founding member Lutz Beisel. "We wanted to help quickly and found doctors, hospitals and foster parents to take care of these children." The initiative brought Vietnamese children to Germany for treatment.
Today, TDH Germany supports around 500 projects in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Germany. In 2005, it received 25.9 million euros ($33.9 million) in donations.