THE BLOG

Why We Must Work Alongside the UN So the Voices of Street Children Can Be Heard

19/03/2014 15:33 GMT | Updated 19/05/2014 10:59 BST

Many of us have seen children on the streets when we have been holidaying abroad. Out late seemingly with no place to go. They may be less noticeable here, in the towns and the cities of the UK, but the reality is that 100,000 children here run away from home each year.

I have my own stark memories. Children as young as five living on the side of a busy road in southern India. The eight year old girl in Thailand working on a market stall late on a weekday night. The teenage girl in Scotland who was too scared to go home.

The children I saw are not exceptions. Children who live or work on the streets are found in cities on every continent. Accurately counting their numbers is fraught with difficulties but estimates suggest there are many millions of street-connected children across the world. UNICEF puts the total number at more than 100 million.

The reasons why these children and young people are on the streets are varied. Family break-down, violence at home, poverty, conflict or natural disasters are some of the most common reasons given. Or they might have been attracted by the independence, glamour or sense of adventure the city promises.

For some it is a permanent way of life. Others may regularly move between home, the street and shelters. For too many children, the street can be a safer, preferable option than their own family.

But whatever the cause and whether they are a runaway from Derby or street child/hawker in Delhi, the challenges they face - exploitation, violence and stigmatisation - are similar. So, too, is the fact that their concerns and hopes are frequently ignored by policy makers. They have little say in decisions about their lives. The Consortium for Street Children (CSC), set up over two decades ago, exists to change this.

CSC grew out of the international outrage over the killing of eight children in Brazil by police. The children were asleep on church steps. With 90 members now in over 130 countries, CSC continues to champion the cause of street children across the world.

We have seen progress over the last 20 years. In particular a renewed commitment to supporting street children at the United Nations prompted by a unanimously-adopted UN Human Rights Council Resolution in 2011 and subsequent ground-breaking UN Office of the High Commissioner report in 2012 which have encouraged national governments to take action. But there remains much to be done, particularly in ensuring the voices of street children are heard by those who make the policies which impact on their lives.

It was to bring this goal closer and push the issue higher up public agendas that CSC launched the International Day for Street Children. It may be only three years old but the event will again be celebrated next month in over 100 countries by street children and their champions. These include not just community groups but also UN special rapporteurs, governments and major global corporations such as Aviva and HSBC. This year we are asking street children the question, "If the whole world were listening what would you say?" We want to promote their answers so their voices can be heard more clearly. However, we still want to go a major step further and gain official UN recognition for the Day.

By having the support and guidance of the United Nations, it will be much harder for national governments to deny street children the support and opportunities they need. Such recognition has brought a greatly increased focus for other issues both on identifying the challenges and delivering effective solutions.

We have already had some powerful support at national government level for official UN recognition. But the more people who support this call, the faster it will come.

That's why we launched a global petition to support our call for UN recognition: www.streetchildrenday.org. By signing up, you will help to make governments take action to support street children and enable them to fulfil their potential.

You can show your support for the campaign on Twitter by using #TweetForTheStreet so the voices of street children can be heard.

Andrew is CSC's Chief Executive and joined in October 2013 having worked as CEO at a community charity in east London. With a wide range of international experience, Andrew has previously lived in India, Jamaica and Sierra Leone.