Subject: Radio National - Asia Pacific TIMOR: Street kids in Dili after family breakdown

Almost three years after the devastation of East Timor following its referendum ballot of 1999, some scars are still too painfully evident. A recent UNICEF report painted a grim picture of emerging violence and sexual abuse of children and in the capital Dili, some displaced, abandoned or orphaned children are not finding the care they need. While there appears to be little documentation of the problem, the most vulnerable victims of a society just getting back on its feet are fending for themselves on the streets.

Presenter/Interviewer: Karon Snowdon, Dili.

Speakers: Michelle Reid, a Good Samaritan Sister. The main NGO running the kids shelter is "Forum Communicacones Juventude" with support from UNICEF, the Salesiano Order and the Ministry of Education

SNOWDON: Five days after the Independence celebrations in Dili, street kids gathered for their own more modest celebration.

The popular Bibi Buluk theatre group performing in a small two room house that Dili's street kids can call their own. The house has been donated to the Asia-Pacific Support Collective - a non-government group of young Timorese people dedicated to helping women and children.

Homeless kids can sleep there, have a safe place to play and be sent to school.

Street kids, whether truly homeless or not, are on just about every corner and outside every cafe in Dili, targetting foreigners with outstretched hands clutching phone cards or cheap cigarettes. A small number beg for money or food.

REID: "Two years ago when we first came, the Salesian Sisters were working on a regular basis on a weekend and they would have at least 400. Now that would have been repeated by other religious congregations here. There are three major ones and all were working with streetkids."

Sister Michelle Reid is from the Good Samaritan Catholic Order of Sydney, who two years ago raised $54,000 to help three local groups working with street kids.

Two years ago food was scarce in Dili, families were displaced and separated and many houses destroyed. But even now in the new, almost rebuilt city, kids as young as five are living on the street.

REID: "Some of them are from dysfunctional families. If the husband is dead - which was the case in a lot of the cases - there were widows or young women who were all displaced - they've come in to Dili in the early days from the outer districts and just not surviving. The little boy that I spoke of - his mum was actually out with different boyfriends. Was leaving two children in the house unattended - he was the elder one and he was only four and being left with the baby.

"The neighbours were aware of it and very concerned. And this group here has actually been working with her. So they've got the child back to the family but when she needs a break, they've encouraged her to bring him back here, not to leave him unattended."

SNOWDON: What sort of life do they have on the street?

REID: I think one of the big problems is there are other groups of youths who are using younger ones to sell things and it's dangerous because once they gather the money, they are then open to be robbed by older students who are watching them all the time.

SNOWDON: So there's some sort of gang or cartel operating?

REID: Especially with phone cards. That's highly organised. Cigarettes as well. I mean, you can get children as young as 10 selling cigarettes.

SNOWDON: So there have always been streetkids but it's a bigger problem now?

REID: "I don't know about pre-99 because I wasn't here. But it's escalated around 2000-2001. Even now you can see a reductioln because tehre's a lot more support going for them. Even just today, I was at the university with some students and they were talking abotu supporting maybe not an institutional orphanage but a lot of villages are trying to take on orphans and they're the ones that often don't get any financial support because they don't have an institution.

"What the villagers are trying to do is take in orphans into famillies in a more natural environment but also there can be a cultural problem of using orphans like a bit of a slave. How widespread that is I don' t know - it's a bit hard but you find a few stories as you move around. 7/6/2002

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