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Like any other metropolis, night time in the Angolan capital Luanda can be dangerous, especially for the hundreds of children forced to live on the streets.
Threats are everywhere, including a real risk of human trafficking. But strangers aren’t the only danger: rivalries and competition within gangs also pose a threat to the children’s safety.
Other risks come from the police officers who should be protecting them.
“We are sleeping and then they arrive and beat us and take us in the van to the police station,” one boy explains. “Afterwards, they force us to clean the floors and the bathrooms”.
This incident allegedly took place at the May Day police headquarters, right in the heart of Luanda. The children say it wasn’t the first time.
We asked the Angolan National Police for comment
“We will investigate,” police spokesperson Mateus Lemos Rodrigues told Euronews. “We believe that it might have been a case of excessive force by some of our officers. It would be good if those accusations were formalised so we can launch an inquiry and hold them accountable”.
Some child protection organisations told Euronews that they have already reported these abuses to police but haven’t had a response. They say that only by working with the police will they be able to improve the lives of the street children.
According to a survey conducted over a four-month period last year, there were 465 children living on the streets of Luanda.
But the children themselves say those figures aren’t accurate
“There’s more,” one boy told Euronews. “Before, there weren’t as many kids but now the numbers are growing. They’re coming here and doing robberies and then we get the blame.”
Violence and drugs are part of the environment. Many street children use narcotics. The most common is sniffing gasoline – it’s a way to escape reality and anaesthetise pain, or simply follow group dynamics.
During Angola’s civil war, almost 20 years ago, many children went to Luanda to escape violence. Now, the causes are different but the children keep coming.
“The main reasons are accusations of witchcraft; there are plenty of kids on the streets because of this kind of accusation,” explains Adjaime de Frietas, a coordinator with the Salesian Network. “The second cause is the extreme poverty of many families. Then the biggest reason is the breakdown of the family.”
Hopes and dreams
But there is hope. For children who want to escape life on the street, the Salesian Network of Don Bosco and the Italian NGO International Volunteer for Development have a programme to welcome and rehabilitate hundreds of children. The Italian Episcopal Conference, the Italian Cooperation and the European Union are its main financial contributors.
But the adjustment can be difficult. Used to the freedom of the streets, some children choose to leave.
For those who stay, sports are a favourite activity. The Salesian Network’s Inter Campus Angola initiative is backed by Inter Milan and aims to prevent street crime and under-age prostitution. Street children are joined by kids from some of Luanda’s most disadvantaged districts and together they dream about the future:
“I want to be an oil engineer and a footballer,” one boy says.
“I want to be a fireman,” adds another.
“I like mathematics so I want to be a diamond engineer,” says someone else.
For now, they’re doing what they can to get through the days. Two young boys sing together on the streets of Luanda. “I do the verses,” the younger one explains, “and he does the chorus.”