MADINAH — They are found in dozens at vital intersections of this holy city hawking simple wares, such as chewing gum, towels or prayer beads. These are in fact street children trying to win people’s sympathy. Motorists hand them a few riyals often, but do not buy anything from them.
Many of these children, who are subjected to various kinds of torture and harassment, were either smuggled into the country by human traffickers or were pushed into begging by their own parents.
Street kids are an issue that calls for urgent attention. These children, who are forced to live in such harsh conditions, will grow up harboring malice against society and pose a potential danger to the country.
Omar, 9, said his father forced him to sell items in the street to help feed his 10 siblings. He says he cannot return home until he sells all the items he carries. “I exert maximum efforts. I have to collect at least SR50 a day. I run after passersby in the hope that they would buy my wares,” he said. Some people gave him money without buying anything while most others remained oblivious to his pleas. “Sometimes I go home late, may be around 1.00 A.M., because I must meet the target set by my father,” he lamented.
Fatima, a young girl, said her mother forced her to sell chewing gum in the street. However, her mother warns her against going with anyone.
Fatima says she sells chewing gum because she cannot carry towels and water bottles at the same time. She said her brothers, who are older than her, sell such items.
Samiah, 10, recounted numerous embarrassing situations she faced while selling chewing gum and towels at intersections in Madinah. She said it was teenagers who harassed her most.
Samiah wished she could spend her childhood in school like other children, instead walking the streets under the hot sun.
Hatim Muhammad Safarji, a neurolinguistic programmer (NLP) and human relations trainer, described the phenomenon of street kids as “negative and unhealthy”. Safarji said the kids roaming the streets seeking to earn a living would be subjected to sexual harassment, insults and humiliation, which would erode their self-esteem.
“It is sad to see young children roaming the streets selling sundry items or carrying a scale to check people’s weight for a riyal or two,” he said.
Safarji lauded the efforts of the Madinah mayoralty to curb this negative phenomenon. “We see that some expatriate parents have resorted to sending their kids to the streets to sell items. This is unacceptable as the children have a right to proper upbringing and the Shariah requires us to raise our children with our own efforts,” he said.
“If these hardworking children are given opportunity for a proper education they will definitely end up playing distinctive and outstanding roles in society,” he added.
Rajaa Muhammad, a sociologist, said sending young children to the street to make money is part of the culture of some expatriate communities. In their societies, it is normal for children to roam the streets to earn money to support the family.
The sociologist said these people have transplanted their culture in the Kingdom exposing their sons and daughters to numerous dangers. “This leads to imbalances in families that have a big number of children,” said Muhammad.
For his part, Col. Fahd Al-Ghannam, spokesman for Madinah police, says the responsibility for rounding up these children lies with the mayoralty. Police intervene only when there is infringement of law and when a child is subjected to violence, he adds.
In such events, the police take the children into custody and hand them to the section dealing with the expatriates if they are not legal residents. In the case of children of legal residents and Saudi nationals, their parents or guardians are summoned to the police station.
Col. Al-Ghannam said Madinah police so far have not received any complaints on the kidnapping or harassment of street children.