Improving Street Childrens Mental Health
Sexual and mental health problems are on the increase world-wide especially among street children.
A high proportion of vulnerable children who live in the street suffer exploitation, poor quality of life that often lead to sexual and mental health problems.
These issues include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation. In Mwanza 87% of street children we work have exhibited moderate to severe psychological symptoms such as self-stigma, violent behaviour, and suicidal ideation.
Facts: Trauma and Abuse
Street children experience high rates of trauma and abuse prior to their street migration. In fact, abuse in the family is a critical catalyst for children’s movement to the street. Once they are on the street, children encounter multiple forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, and sexual.
This abuse comes mostly from people in their social surroundings including employers, service clientele, police, older youth. Our randomized fact finding study in Mwanza found that 93% of street children and youth had experienced some form of violence or abuse. Also, we discovered that of girls engaged in street vending, 70% had been sexually abused, with 17% having had penetrative sexual intercourse. The children also ranked sexual abuse as the most frightening threat of street life.
Hopelessness, Self-harm and Suicide
A sense of hopelessness is common among children who are living alone of the streets and at risk. Our fact-finding interview found high levels of hopelessness, social alienation, and depression among street children in Mwanza City. Hopelessness stems from an insecure life, abuse, and cultural and social exclusion, which many of these children face every day. Those who have lived on the streets for a long time and have few ties with family members and other street children are more likely to experience hopelessness and low self-esteem. Being physically abused or learning that their peers experience such abuse also contributes to a sense of hopelessness. Also we found that abuse in a police station significantly increased the sense of hopelessness.
Our study from recent suicidal event among former street youth found a link between hopelessness and suicidal ideation and self-harm. For example, among of 150 street youth interviewed in Mwanza aged 10–16, we found that 13% had seriously contemplated suicide and 3% had attempted it at least once since they began living on the street.
What are we doing to help?
A resilience-focused mental health model for street children
The dismal mental health conditions of street children in Mwanza, Tanzania has led to calls for our immediate intervention on the issue including building mental health interventions within a resilience framework is a promising approach to working with street children.
In the absence of government policies and services, it is imperative that Cheka Sana Foundation doing work with street populations promote mental health by developing policies and programs that address individual and group needs