PHILADELPHIA — April 12 marked the fourth annual International Day for Street Children founded by the Consortium for Street Children. There are an estimated 150 million children who live on the streets. In Honduras, approximately six thousand children and adolescents are homeless and live on the streets. Children who are in a “street situation,” a term used by the UN OHCHR, are neglected by society and forced to live a life that beckons the dream of security and care.
In 2013, Honduras, a country of eight million people and roughly the size of Ohio or Virginia, had the highest murders in non-conflict zones in the world with 79 out of 100,000 Hondurans. The city of San Pedro Sula is the murder capital city of the world with 187 out of 100,000 Hondurans murdered. Fifty-six percent of the population is under the age of 25. Since 1998, 9,881 minors under the age of 23 were murdered of which 767 occurred between January and October 2014. Femicide in the state has increased by 246 percent. In 2012, Doctor’s Without Borders stated that Honduras has a “violence epidemic.”
Many children have become homeless for various reasons, such as poverty, conflicts and domestic violence. These statistics demonstrate a young population at-risk of becoming homeless and needing to flee from their environments—either to the streets or to other countries. The U.N. Refugee Agency discovered that 65 percent of the 200 children interviewed reported violence as the main reason to migrate.
From January 2015 to March 2015, 16,514 Hondurans were deported. Of this figure, 10 percent are children. Reports from agencies, such as UNHCR, have been written to show that deporting individuals or families who flee from violence is sending them back to a situation that may legally demand international protection.
There are a number of organizations in Honduras that attempt to meet society’s needs in providing housing and care to youth. One of these organizations, Casa Alianza (Covenant House in the U.S.), is an NGO that provides housing, care, legal support for those who live on the street and other assistance to youth ages 12 to 18. It provides care to an average 180 children a night.
For public awareness purposes, Casa Alianza releases monthly reports on the situation of children (zero to 17 years) and young adults (18-23 years). These reports analyze the rights of these age groups in hopes of catalyzing a civil society response to demand for protection of children and young adults. They are divided into three chapters: analysis of the situation, number of executions and violent deaths and practices that should be implemented to protect children.
Some Honduran youth and children are engulfed in a life where violence is normal and cyclical. Those who live on the streets must find ways to survive at the cost of their education and rights.
In March 2015, Casa Alianza reported that youth rights to education are at risk. Recently, four students who protested the daily extension of classes and exercised their rights to education were found murdered. One of the victims, Soad Nicole Ham, was only 13 years of age. The oldest victim was only 21 years of age. These victims did not live on the street, but their stories demonstrate the justification for some youth to flee their communities in search of safe refuge.
In early April 2015, U.N. experts declared that street children are not “disposable.” They highlighted how street children have fallen through the cracks on the general agreements or laws relate to protecting children. The experts continued to describe how countries neglected street children and have helped to continue the insecurity. The U.N. Human Rights Office, The Consortium for Street Children and its sponsor, Aviva (an insurance company) are coming together to write a review that includes broader protection for the rights of children who live in the streets. This review is called the General Comment on the Children in Street Situations. The report should be available by the end of 2015.
Measures taken by organizations like Casa Alianza demonstrate the importance of focusing on youth whether they are at-risk of living or do live on the streets. The steps taken by the U.N. Human Rights Office should also provide a better picture of how to increase youth inclusiveness and provide more knowledge on other areas, such as refugee migration. These combined efforts show that child rights cannot be sacrificed and there must be continuous efforts to protect youth and children.
– Courteney Leinonen
Sources: ACNUR, Amnesty International, Casa Alianza 1, Casa Alianza 2, UC Hastings, CIA, Covenant House, MSF, OHCHR, UNESCO, UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2