The Importance of being Child-Centric

Today is my third day at StreetInvest and I think I’m starting to get the hang of how the office of an Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) works. I am here to do the main part of the research for my dissertation, but also to get work experience for the future.

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My dissertation title is “Exploring how the relationship between street-connected children and street workers affect discrimination in Kolkata, India and Freetown, Sierra Leone.” I am very interested to know what kind of discrimination the street-connected children face and how having an adult work with them for guidance changes the effect discrimination has on the child.

Street workers are mostly paid but they may start off as volunteers or social workers with degrees. They begin as community activists doing community work, such as working in prisons, and then decide to work for street-connected children alongside partnership organisations of StreetInvest. In Kolkata, the partnership organisations are Child In Need Institute and LittleBigHelp. In Freetown there are four organisations, Street Child of Sierra Leone, Codwela, Future for Children and CVC. Some of the workers were once street-connected children themselves and they act as a role model, a guide and also a counsellor. You can read more about the role of street workers here.

Organisations such as StreetInvest are important because many street-connected children feel that they cannot trust adults enough to go to them about their problems. This, in part, is due to the discriminatory behaviour of adults toward the children. While reading through journals and reports such as the UN report on “protection and promotion of the rights of children working and/or living on the street,” I have come across a wide range of behaviour. This includes often being stereotyped as ‘delinquents,’ a group of children perceived as criminals who are constantly detained by police, or ‘victims,’ who are exploited and abused. Additional to public perception, basic services are often not accessible because they lack identity documents such as a birth certificate so cannot get into school.

This report was based on consultation research of 129 child participants with the idea that the street-connected children are experts on their lives and their daily struggles. The UN and Consortium for Street Children used this research to suggest changes that should be made to legislation and policies all over the world so that children are better able to access their rights. This is an important document because it underlines all the different ways that children are discriminated against and therefore unable to fully use their rights.

I believe that the report and subsequent research carried out by Growing Up On The Streets is a very exciting step forward. The consultation process reflects a new child-centred approach to development and policy changing. Put the children at the heart of the research and give them a platform to voice their opinion because they are the ones who are going to be affected the most by the outcome.

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