“Just taking children off the streets is not the solution”

Flemish children’s rights commissioner Caroline Vrijens has voiced support for several organisations now drawing attention to the plight of children and youngsters living alone out on the streets. Dozens of children are in this situation in Belgium.  “They are being exploited.  There are clear signals people traffickers are at work” Vrijens told VRT.

Dozens – maybe even more - children are currently living out on the streets, sleeping in squats and living in atrocious conditions.  Officially they are known as unaccompanied minors.  This week four aid organisations joined forces to draw attention to their plight.

“The exact number of these children is hard to map out” says Anne-Sophie Loobuyck of MSF.

Caroline Vrijens adds: “Aid workers say they are getting younger and younger. Many are youngsters from North Africa, from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Social media posts may have encouraged them to come to Belgium.  Gangs are also recruiting them.”

Little is known about the avenues they take to arrive here.  The children’s rights commissioner says that is a subject that needs to be researched.  The gangs that encourage them to come to Belgium then enlist their services as thieves.

”The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires Belgium to protect them against exploitation and violence” says Vrijens. “Just removing the children from the street is not a good idea because they are used to that kind of life”.

“You need to tailor a solution to their needs.  It’s important there are centres that the children can visit freely and where they receive aid.”

“A central body needs to decide who should co-ordinate action to tackle this problem.  Several public bodies are involved: the justice department, the health and well-being department as well as youth care. We need to work together across all levels.” 

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