Shunned and persecuted: street children in Ukraine

Street children are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to HIV. A study in Ukraine found that approximately one in five street children in three cities were HIV positive.

Street children face different circumstances and levels of risk. Many street children in Ukraine are dependent on substances such as glue, alcohol and drugs. Children living on the street experience poor sanitary conditions and suffer malnutrition, and as a result, are more susceptible to infectious diseases.

“After my grandmother died, I found myself on the streets so I started to visit the centre."

— Ilya

Hard to reach

Shunned by society and persecuted by the authorities, many street children have learned to distrust adults. This makes it very difficult to reach them with the support and services they need. Without official recognition, street children do not have access to most medical or social services.

Street children find it hard or impossible to access services. Generally, clinics refuse to accept children not registered to their clinic, or without permission from a parent or guardian. Children are also afraid to go to clinics fearing being returned to their parents or the boarding houses from which they ran away.

The social patrol

In order to bring services to children an Alliance for Public Health project established the Social Patrol. The Social Patrol was a small team including an outreach worker, a psychologist, a doctor, a nurse, and a driver. They travelled to areas where there are high numbers of street children. At these locations the team provided a range of services including education and information; medical, psychological and legal counselling; provision of basic necessities like food, clothes and toiletries; interactive training on safer lifestyles; and voluntary counselling and testing with rapid tests for HIV and syphilis (procured with support from Global Fund).

The Social Patrol’s aims were to motivate children to take the next step, to visit a drop-in-centre, enrol in a rehabilitation program, and gradually move away from the streets.

Day care centres

Day care centres are places where children can take a shower and do their laundry, watch TV and play games. Together with leisure activities, they received education on HIV and health.

Ilya, now 17, used the centres, “I lost my mother when I was 6, my father passed away when I was 12” he says. “After my grandmother died, I found myself on the streets so I started to visit the centre. I have a passion for painting, so I spent time at the centre drawing all day long. Now I am trying to fix my life with the help of social workers. I am thankful for their help and understanding.”

The project supported organisations to develop outreach work and build partnerships between governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organisations.

You can read a report on the project here