By Yasmina Mrabet
Kenitra – The problem of street children in Morocco is widespread. They are born into extreme poverty, and they can be found living in the streets as early as the age of 6 or 7 years old. It is a method of survival – some to gather money for their families, some to gather money for themselves because they don’t have families. The cases are diverse – one story heard often is that of children whose parents who remarry and no longer allow them to live at home unless they bring in money.
They don’t go to school, they don’t eat well, and they are often in danger. Some turn to begging, some turn to stealing, and many, many sniff glue as a way to numb the pain they experience on a daily basis. Across the country, children living in the streets are referred to as “shemkara” meaning “those who sniff glue,” and they have few opportunities to lead happy and healthy lives.
The experience of young girls and boys in the streets of Morocco is unstable and almost always perilous. They are at high risk of being raped and they are at high risk of being exploited through gangs and forced to commit crimes by older members who use them as a means for their own survival and monetary gain. Young girls are particularly susceptible to rape, and some pretend to be boys by dressing in male clothing, cutting their hair short, and giving themselves male names as a means of protection from violation. However even that does not eradicate the risk completely.
Efforts by Moroccans to address the situation of street children are evident across the Kingdom. Restaurant owners give them food to eat, people give them money as they walk through the streets, there are known associations that the children can go to for clothes. Morocco is a country with an existing culture of alms giving, so street children will almost always find something to eat, and clothes to wear. However, food and clothes are not all that is necessary to address and alleviate their dire circumstances.
A comprehensive and organized approach is desperately needed, and that includes a rehabilitation program to get children off of their glue addiction, to provide them with a safe place to live, nutritious and regular meals, an education, and skills to enable them to work and provide for themselves by means other than begging and stealing.
Finally, one element that is often forgotten, but desperately needed by these young children, is “hanan” in Arabic, meaning “tenderness.” Street children in Morocco live harsh lives, and are dehumanized, often blamed and looked down upon by society for the precarious conditions that they were born into. They need adults who care for them, and adults who they can trust and turn to for kind words and guidance.
Source: (Peace X Peace)