83,000 street kids in Saudi Arabia
A study by Dr. Abdullah Al Yousef, associate professor of sociology at Imam Mohammed Bin Saudi Islamic University in Riyadh, which was published in a local newspaper in 2007, confirmed that 83,000 homeless children were roaming the streets of Saudi Arabia. According to the study, the children were believed to have been brought-in from neighboring countries to work as camel jockeys and later to be used for selling low-priced goods, as well as to beg by traffic-light intersections from cars passing by.
The study also mentioned that in 2005, the Yemeni Ministry of Social Affairs acknowledged that around 300 children were crossing the Saudi Yemini border on a monthly basis, and while contrary to what was reported back then in the daily press, the study noted that more than half of those street kids were of Saudi origin, while more than half of them were girls.
The disturbing statistics also revealed the serious risks these kids faced. From sickness and disease to sexual exploitation and finally to abuse by criminal groups were just to name a few.
Finally and in conclusion, the study warned that if government authorities did not intervene in time to resolve this social phenomenon, the country will most definitely face serious security issues in the future as most of these juvenile delinquents would inadvertently be a burden to society as they grew older.
Additionally, another similar study confirmed that the presence of children living and working on the streets of Saudi Arabia has increased noticeably with time due to the huge influx of illegally smuggled children from Asia and Africa, mostly through the southern border with Yemen.
Neglected by their families, and often deployed by gangs, these children were organized into groups of 6 and 15 year olds. They would be trained for months by their gang leader and then let loose to roam the streets to earn a living by means ranging from illegal beggary to pickpocketing to armed robbery and sometimes violence, to fatten the bank account of their master, and sometimes even the biological father.
The remit of such a child may include daily begging with no days off, distributing contraband material, robbing shops, with some possible drug use to numb the pain and deal with the hardships of street life. According to the study, the city of Jeddah is recorded as the most popular place for street kids to beg in, followed by Makkah and Riyadh.
For as long as I can remember, street kids have been a part of my daily outings. Growing up as a child, I’d share innocent glances with them as our car stopped between green and red traffic lights.
Back in those days, they were less confident, less assertive and less outspoken. They would simply come by my car, stand still and stare, and gently tap at my window in the hope that we’d give them a riyal or two. Today, some 20 years later, they are still part of my daily outings. But somehow they seem to have changed. If my feelings serve me right, they seem to have adjusted to this way of life. Today, the street seems to have become their identity, their habitat and their sense of security… A very tragic adaptation!
Going through this literature disturbed me deeply. I wondered what it would take to wake us up to this harsh reality of blatant and most public forms of child abuse. Child abuse comes in many shapes, and choosing to ignore the tragedy of street kids within our midst is one of them.
Tragically enough, this is what we, as a society, have chosen to do on a daily basis for over 2 decades now. You know it, I know it, our country knows it, and all we can do is watch silently in that hope that that someday… someone will finally do something about it.
— President, TLC Consultancy
— [email protected]