07/10/2008, 00.00
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Street children in Yemen, caught between selling drugs and sex slavery

Many children in the poorest country in the Middle East are exploited by unscrupulous employers or end up in prostitution. The absence of policies geared towards the family and the state’s lack of interest in children’s fate increase the sense of abandonment.
Sanaa (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 30,000 street children in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, suffer from marginalisation, degradation, lack of schooling, and the daily struggle for survival that often sees them end up as drug couriers or dealers  or sex slaves in the case of girls, this according to a new study by a government agency, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood (SCMC), that looked into the plight of Yemeni children.

The study presents a shocking picture. Migration to the cities, poverty, unemployment, high fertility rates, lack of social services, and the lack of support for the poor by the state—all contributed to the problem of street children.

The study was conducted in eight of the country's 21 governorates: Sanaa, Aden, Taiz, al-Hudeidah, Hadhramout, Ibb, Hajjah and Dhamar. Researchers selected 4,760 street children (718 girls and 4,042 boys), aged 6-17, as a sample group.

However, the phenomenon is broader and affects an estimated 30,000 children, 60 per cent of whom work and sleep on the streets, living by their wits without contact with their families. The remaining 40 per cent work the streets but return to some kind of makeshift home at night.

The situation is destined to get worse according to the study, which notes that humanitarian associations tend to avoid the problem. Of the 6,000 civil society organisations that exist nationwide, only 3 to 5 of them dealt with street children.

These children are underschooled; most have not complete primary school. And a good many of them left school to escape violence in that institution.

The study also found street children affected by a number of diseases like diarrhoea, malaria, back ache, constant dizziness, chronic chest inflammations, ophthalmia, hepatitis and tonsillitis. Some suffered from wasting and anaemia.

Among the many kids interviewed during the study, one said that he had slept near a secondary school in the centre of the capital for almost a year without contacts with his family which lives in Amran, a northern governorate.

The 14-year-old said that he made a living by selling cigarettes in the city, and did not want to rent a room in order to save money to send to his family.

“My father went to Saudi Arabia three years ago to find a job but didn't come back. I have three brothers and one sister and my mother asked me to find any job here in Sanaa to sustain them,” he said.

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