THEY CALL THEMSELVES “STREET LAWYERS” AND THEIR CLIENTS ARE 6, 10, 14….
October 28, 2016
If you are desperately poor, 6 years old, and picked up by police in Baghdad for begging, who will come to your defense? We are not permitted to show their pictures and will use aliases but here is the story of two little brothers – we will call them Mohammed and Husam – who are 6 and 7 years old.
The brothers were recently picked up for begging. Yes, begging on the streets is illegal. Fortunately, because the ICF deployed team of street lawyers and social workers has developed a good working relationship with juvenile authorities, many of these cases get entrusted to their care.
Their story? Turns out Mohammed and Husam are orphans. They lived with a poor uncle so when another relative offered to take them in, the uncle gave them up. Fast forward: Mohammed and Husam get picked up by police for begging and the street lawyers and social work team investigate their case. It basically amounts to trafficking: the relative who took them in was exploiting them to beg on the streets. The social workers acted quickly, contacted the poor uncle, and the street lawyers arranged the boys’ release to return to his safe care.
Just since May 2016, when ICF launched this expanded initiative for Iraq’s most vulnerable kids, this is the life-changing impact already underway:
Education, Food, Financial Support: 139 children got missing legal documents required for school or food and financial support. In September, 41 boys and girls started school.
Legal Protection: Street lawyers have handled 107 cases of children who were arrested or are in detention.
Preventing child recruitment by extremists and criminals: 325 boys and girls were trained to avoid recruitment by extremists or criminals, even if offered money to deliver an unknown package. And they were advised of their rights and how to respond if they get arrested by police.
Medical care and Social Services: 124 children received social services for medical needs – like typhoid and skin disease, psychological care – as well as other services like family mediation to discourage children from working on the streets and reduce domestic violence. So far, 80 children have stopped working on the streets.
Child Protection Units: 25 community leaders were trained to serve in “Child Protection Units” that identify and refer cases of at-risk kids to the street lawyers and social workers so rapid intervention can be made. A hotline was also set up to take calls from the community for children in trouble.
Income projects: 5 small income-generating projects were launched so widows and orphans can earn an income and kids no longer have to work collecting cans from the trash or begging.