Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — During a cold winter in the Southern hemisphere, in 1973, I was in Santiago de Chile and I would watch, from the window of the hotel I was staying at, a group of children huddle around a bonfire, trying to keep themselves warm, as temperatures would fall below zero degrees Celsius at night. These were the so-called street children, who, in spite of President Salvador Allende’s efforts to improve social conditions in Chile, continued to exist.
That same year, after I’d returned to Cuba, and during the Cuban winter, I went to a friend’s birthday party in Havana, where I stayed until about midnight. To get home, I had to walk through four of Havana’s neighborhoods and it was a little chilly that night. I then remembered my visit to Santiago de Chile and the scenes I saw of street children. However, this time, in Havana, I didn’t see a single child on the street my whole way home. They were all sleeping in their homes because they had to wake up early the following day to go to school.
The memory of those two immensely different realities has come to my mind again after I saw some photographs of street children and I’ve tried to find statistics about this phenomenon in UNICEF reports and on the current situation of children in Cuba who have no family or home.
Throughout all of Cuba’s provinces, there are state-run insitutions called “homes for children without a family home”, where children and teenagers are given similar living conditions to those of a loving home. The main reasons for entering one of these centers are either being an orphan or abandoned and therefore, these children lack family love and care which they receive from center employees, who treat them as if they were their own children. These kids go to schools which correspond to the neighborhood they live in and have full access to public healthcare, just like any other Cuban child.
When they turn 18 years old, these young people leave the Home and go to live in housing given to them by the Government’s Administration Council in the municipality they live in while the Ministry of Labor has to find them a job.
That’s why there are no street children in any city here in Cuba. Meanwhile, statistics provided by UNICEF on the global phenomenon are spine chilling. Up until three years ago, reports revealed that there were between 100-150 million street children in the world. Although there haven’t been any recent reports to confirm the exact number of street children worldwide, the number must have increased drastically if we take into account the wars promoted by Imperialism, the results of terrorism and the spreading of the AIDs epidemic in Africa.
Searching for information on UNICEF’s website, I found an advert which was asking for donations to help street children. I also saw an advert on Spanish CNN some time ago, where you could see children dressed in rags, their faces dirty and sadness in their eyes whilst they they launched the following appeal: help street children.
I don’t doubt that the intention of both of these campaigns was good; however, their direction is misguided. You can’t help street children with spare change; you help them with governments’ political will. They shouldn’t be asking for us to help street children, but asking themselves, why do street children exist?
The answer is simple: they exist and will always exist as long as neoliberal capitalism and governments who are insensitive to the evils of society exist which continue to fill the world’s streets with small children dressed in rags with a sadness in their eyes, a real disgrace for humanity.