Despite government’s efforts, homeless children, commonly referred to as “street Children” continue to saturate the city of Yaoundé as days go by. Major neighborhoods like Yaoundé Central town, Carrefour Nlongkak, Odza, Avenue Kennedy, Marché Central and Mokolo remain fertile breathing grounds for these children.
One of the main causes for this growing number of homeless children in Yaoundé and other cities in Cameroon is the crisis hitting the North-west, South-West, Far North and the Eastern Regions of the country. A recent statistic has it that as of 2919, Cameroon had over 900,000 internally displaced persons, among whom 51% were children. The escalation of the Anglophone crisis has produced a significant increase in the number of children fending for themselves on the streets of Cameroon’s cities. Armed men are engaged in setting the lives of civilians at risk in their homes.
This behavior endangers civilians directly, thus causing many to flee their homes out of fear for their safety, increasing the number of Cameroon’s homeless children dramatically. This surge in displaced individuals also extents Cameroon’s already thin resources even more direly, worsening conditions for those already homeless. Many street children rely on begging, drug abuse and sex work to survive their harsh conditions. Almost no street child considers the public’s attitude toward them to be supportive. These children are dangerously vulnerable, especially in active war zones.
Marie-Therese Abena Ondoua, Cameroon minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family says said high levels of poverty, conflict, family disunity and a high rate of divorce, illiteracy, rural exodus and early marriage were responsible for the increasing number of street children.
The Covid-19 pandemic on its part has hit Cameroon, worsening conditions for street children. Urban centers are now less sanitary and more harmful than before, something that mostly the homeless and under-housed feel its effects
In Cameroon where about 37.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, street children have had a prominent humanitarian concern for several years now. It is in this light that orphanages in Yaoundé have opened their doors to these homeless children. One of such orphanages is the St. Augustine Orphanage situated at the Odza neighborhood in Yaoundé. Headed by Bernadette Mefoue, this orphanage offers shelter to children from diverse backgrounds, particularly those fleeing from the Anglophone crisis and the Boko Haram insurgences.
The founder of this orphanage, Bernadette Mefoue explained that she picks up children from the street with the aim of giving a better life and making the society a better place. Here, children are aged between 0-18 years. While some go to a nearby school for formal education, others are trained in agricultural activities such as farming and fishing.
Thanks to this humanitarian gesture, more children are being interested in taking refuge in orphanages, a place where they that it is better off than the streets. The founder of the St. Augustine Orphanage again explained that before most of her children leave the orphanage at the age of 18, they must have received skills that can enable them start up a new and better life.
In order to fully carryout its functions, the St. Augustine Orphanage works in collaboration with Ministry of Women Empowerment and the Family. The orphanage is also sponsored by Radio Skyone. Besides such initiatives by Non-Governmental Organisations, the government on its part is leaving no stone unturned to better the lives of street children. Several campaigns have been launched to free the streets from homeless and vulnerable children.
The outbreak of the coronavirus accelerated government’s plan to take off thousands of homeless children from the streets. About 3,000 street children were to be reunited with their families or receive job training, including orphans and asylum-seekers from the neighboring Central African Republic, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs. Questions are still asked as to whether this plan was realized on not, given the number of children still present in streets.