Local News

Street children: hidden lives on busy streets

National Yemen

Ali said anti-begging police come to arrest street children

By: Asma Al-Mohattwari

“I’ve made my family suffer a lot and we’re all begging in Sana’a streets,” said Ali Al-Hakmi, with tears in his eyes. Ali joined the army when he was 17 years old. At that young age, he didn’t know anything about how to enter the army. In the end, one of his relatives registered him in the army using another person’s identity.

Days, months and years passed, and he got married and had six children. Although he received a basic salary, he was living a happy life. Ali’s contentment ended when he suffered a terrible accident while driving a military truck. Ali sustained serious head wounds, which left with him mental and behavior problems. While he received three years’ worth of hospital treatment, because he had used another person’s identity to join the army, his family was unable to find him.

Three years passed and Ali’s health partially improved. Joy spread all throughout his village when Ali returned to his family, but this joy did not last when he learned of the difficulties experienced by his family.

His salary had been held back during the three years he was unwell, and he tried everything he could to retrieve it. The processes and legal actions needed to obtain his salary required a great deal of money and he was forced to sell his house at little profit.

Soon after, his family was left homeless. After much though, Ali decided to travel to Sana’a to seek out a living on the streets. Not one of his children attended school, and he sent five of his children into the streets to beg, all except the youngest one as he was clearly too young to do so.

“My older son is 17 years old and he doesn’t even know how to hold a pencil; instead of sending him to school, I sent him into the streets to beg, clean, sell and basically do any kind of works there is in the streets,” said Ali.

Poverty and need compelled Ali to order his two daughters to beg; when they’re in the street, he watches them from afar. At the end of the day, Ali takes what they’ve earned, spends some on qat and brings the rest home.

Ali tried many time to find a job but no one agreed to employ him because of his various health issues. He said his future had been destroyed before and now his children’s future is being destroyed before his eyes and he feels he can do nothing for them.

Though it is recognized that Yemeni Law No. 45 of 2002 on Children’s Rights requires the state to take necessary measures to aid children suffering from difficult living circumstances such as street children, homeless children, and children who are exposed to abuse, exploited or lured into performing illegal acts.

But still, the number of street children only continues to increase. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor attributed the reason for this phenomenon to low standards of living, poverty, and difficult economic and political conditions within the country.

Just meters away from Ali and his children stands Anisa Taher, who is 15 years old. Anisa didn’t realize what awaited her when she decided to leave school to help her mother, two sisters and three brothers find their living.

Anisa ignored her wish to complete her education and chose to leave school when she was in the third grade. Anisa said she is exposed to a great deal of harassment as she sells gum and tissues on the street.

“The hardest situation I have experienced came when I was arrested by the anti-begging police. I was taken to a prison where there were only policemen present. They took all the money that I had before they freed me,” she said.

For his part, Ali said anti-begging police come to arrest street children, take all that they have and then let them go. However, Ali added, if they don’t have any money, they are imprisoned until someone from their families arrives and pays bail money.

Some local and international organizations have sought to find solutions to the problems that a number of Yemeni parents have in supporting their children. The Yemen Education and Relief Organization has adopted more than 500 children and provided them with food, home care, tuition costs, and school supplies. “Not only that, but we also give financial support to the children’s families,” said Nouria Naji. But this isn’t enough – when it comes down to it, the number of street children is too large and the efforts to assist them too modest.

Director of Social Welfare in the Home Saleh Jameel said he believed that support from foreign organizations is seasonal and that it doesn’t fully address the problem. Also, government support isn’t sufficient to provide care for and rehabilitate children.

If the government does its duty and provides us with jobs and social insurance, then it has the right to arrest and punish us… but now, they don’t have the right to say anything,” said Ali.