However, the phenomenon that we would usually associate with cities in developing countries rather than an advanced economy with a strong welfare system such as Belgium is said to be growing. The street children of Brussels are the subject of an article in Monday’s edition of the daily ‘De Standaard’. The children, some as young as 9, sleep in squats. They have been moving across Europe from city to city from years. Sofia Mahjoub of Child Focus told VRT News that “We have identified by 20 and 30, but the true number will be several times this”.
The street children come from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. They entered the EU via Spain where they stay for a while before moving on to Paris, then Brussels en route to Scandinavia. Europol says that there are currently between 400 and 500 such street children in cities across Europe.
Ms Manjoub told VRT News that the children have come here for various reasons. “Some were already living on the streets, others come from broken homes, others are sent away by their families or have decided by themselves to go out and seek their fortune. Often they become dependent on drugs quite quickly and end up in the clutches of criminal networks that uses them to commit thefts”.
"There are distressing stories. These children are mentally and physically exhausted. They have no goals. This is why it is so difficult to accommodate them in care institutions and to create a bond”.
What to do with the street children is a tricky question. “They end up in a secure institution, which is not ideal as their addiction issues need to be addressed, or they are placed in an open institution, where they can run away quite easily. It is very difficult to win their trust”.
But what should be done?
"On the streets we should help them by giving them food of providing facilities for them to be able to take a shower. We should also provide suitable reception facilities for them. Small-scale so that they can address their addiction issues and find an aim in life”.
Agencies working in the field also say that more funding is required to pay for the provision of specialised care facilities for this particularly vulnerable group.
"This is something that has been high on the (political) agenda for a few years. Nevertheless, the situation is still far from ideal. We can’t allow children of 9 to be living on the streets”.