The UK’s Hidden Problem

It’s dark outside. Cold, too. And somewhere in the UK, a child has just run away from home.  They’re not staying with “Granny”, they’re not even kipping on a friend’s floor.  They’re heading for the streets.

Children’s charity, The Children’s Society say that 100, 000 children will run away from homes in the UK every year, with approximately 70 percent forced to do so by their parents.  About two thirds of all runaways are never reported “missing” to the police.  By the time you have finished reading this article, in five minutes, another child will have run away.

 Ben was 12 years-old when he found himself with no-one to talk to, nowhere to go.  He went to hospital with a broken arm, fractured ribs and a lie about a fight at school.  He couldn’t tell anyone what had really happened, not even his Dad.  His Stepmother had hit him.  Soon, the hitting turned into kicking until one night, two years later, Ben could take no more.  He ran to the streets, where he was faced with begging and hunger, until a man approached him and said he could live with him and his family.  The man had no family.  Instead, he locked Ben in a room for two days, until again, Ben ran away.

He was living in a car park when The Children’s Society first approached him, but Ben didn’t trust them.  He’d been let down by too many adults before.  He lied and told them that he was 17, so that they would leave him alone but, concerned for his safety, The Children’s Society came back, until slowly, Ben came to trust the project workers.  Eventually, Ben attended a centre in Manchester, where he was fed and looked after, until a foster family were found for him.  This is a story with a happier ending, but there are still thousands of children who go unnoticed every year.

Children don’t run away from home without reason.  They run because they need to escape something, because they believe life on the streets will be an easier option.  It’s not.  The dangers faced by children living on the streets are often far worse than the dangers of abuse, violence and bullying that they have run from.  The dangers of drug or alcohol abuse and sexual exploitation.  Railway Children report that “With no support or protection, children live with constant fear, loneliness and hopelessness. They can see no way out; no opportunity to escape the relentless poverty, violence, hunger and abuse.”

No-one should have to live a life of fear and loneliness, least of all a child.  With most runaways around the ages of 13 and 14, and with some as young as 11 or 12, it is time to take a stand.  Our Government and local governments must do more to ensure that these children are not only seen and protected, but that they have their voices heard and their rights respected.  The UK Government is bound by international law to uphold the rights of all children to (among others): “survival and development”; protection from “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse”; “the highest attainable standard of health” and education.  However,  these rights are not upheld for runaways.  Not enough is being done to prioritise the rights of children living on the streets.  For too many people, these children are invisible.

The Children’s Society, believing that we, as a nation, can and should do better.  Their ‘Make runaways safe’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the reasons children run away, why they are at risk, and what can be done to ensure their safety.  They are asking MPs, celebrities and the general public to back their campaign and urging local councils to sign the ‘Runaways Charter’, which provides a code of conduct for authorities to ensure that their work with runaways is effective.

You can sign up and track progress of the campaign here:

You can also share this article with friends and family.  Talk about it and discuss the issues it raises.  Lobby your local MP.  Tell them that this issue is important to you and that you are looking to them to make sure that runaways are put on the agenda.  You can find out more about runaways, hear more stories and ‘get involved’  or make a donation on the following websites:



Laura Tyrrell



The case-study, statistics and other material all belong to The Children’s Society and Railway Children.  The article is my own. 



Discrimination: The True Barrier to Clean Water

“We have to use the water from the stream which is very dirty. Children vomit and get diarrhoea very often” (Amnesty 2011:40).

These words belong to Silvana Hudorovac, recorded by Amnesty International in their 2011 report ‘Parallel lives’. In 2011 Silvana was living in a community without access to clean running water and basic sanitation. In this report Silvana explains how her family are forced to defecate in trenches behind their homes (Amnesty, 2011).

Silvana’s experience is not uncommon.  According to Water Aid 783 Million people are living without access to clean running water. A further 2.5 billion people are without the use of a proper toilet or basic sanitation. Water Aid describes this situation as a ‘water crisis’ and for good reason. The impact on global health is devastating as an estimated ‘3.4 million people die each year from a water related disease’ (Water Org, 2013).

The human right to water was officially recognized by the Human Rights Council in 2010 with ‘The human right to water and sanitation’ resolution. Article (1) of the resolution ‘ recognises the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights’.

Since 2010 any state that has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘can no longer deny their responsibility to provide safe water and sanitation to all people’ (Right to water, 2013). Yet this entitlement is not being provided and individuals, such as Silvana’s human rights are being violated.

Improving water and basic sanitation has been a focus of international development initiatives over the last ten years. It is also a target of the seventh Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were devised by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development. The MDGs focus on eight global targets aimed at alleviating global poverty. They range from the eradication of hunger to ensuring environmental sustainability (UN, 2013).

In September 2000 the largest ever meeting of world leaders took place at the ‘UN Millennium Summit’. At this summit leaders signed the Millennium Declaration and agreed to achieve the eight goals by 2015. The expiry date of the MDGs is looming in the not so distance future.  One target of the seventh goal ensuring environmental sustainability has been achieved and is triumphed as a development success story.  The target that has been met is to ‘half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’ (UN, 2013).

The UN  2012 MDGs report states that since ‘2010  89% of the world’s population was using improved drinking water sources up from 76% in 1990’. This sounds like a grand achievement particularly in conjunction with the statistic that ‘more than two billion people gained access to improved water sources’ (UN, 2013). However it is hard to assess whether the MDGs have impacted on the increased proportion of people who have improved water sources. This is because over half of global development in improved water sources is attributed to India and China (UN, 2013). And efforts to improved water sources started before 1990 with economic growth of these countries.

Data is also not available to measure how much water sources have improved and if they now provide safe drinking water. The statistics are less optimistic for the global improvement on sanitation. This has only measured to have increased from ‘36 per cent in 1990 to 56 per cent in 2010’ (UN, 2013). The lopsidedness of the gains made by access to improved water sources and not by sanitation are concerning as water does not stay clean for long without sanitation.

What is also apparent from the UN report is that global improvements in drinking water are by no means evenly spread. This is in-between regions and within countries.

Data compiled from 35 Sub-Saharan African states in the UN report shows that ‘over 90 per cent of the riches quintile in urban areas’ is using improved water sources. Whereas ‘piped- in water is non-existent in the poorest 40 percent of households, and less than half of the population uses any form of improved source of water’ (UN ,2012).

Even when the MDG target for improved access to drinking water has been met it remains that clean water is still out of reach for the poorest members of society. This also disproportionately affects the lives of women who in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa bear the brunt of water collection.

When interviewed, Silvana Hudorovac was living in Slovenia where according to Amnesty nearly 100 percent of the population have access to clean water.  Silvana is a member of the Roma minority group.  Roma communities face widespread discrimination across Europe in access to resources such as clean water.

The MDGs as a development framework have not impacted on this deep-rooted discrimination or exclusion from water and the effect is felt from Slovenia to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to water and sanitation is denied to the Roma because of multi-generational discrimination.  Amnesty reported that the Roma in Slovenia cannot access government or private rented housing. They are forced to live in segregated, unpermitted and secluded settlements without running water, toilets or electricity. The Slovenian government does not provide water to housing without building permits (Amnesty, 2011).

Access to water and sanitation is thus denied through a series of discriminatory practices.  The situation of the Roma in Slovenia is reflected in much of the developing world. Water Org state ‘for the vast majority of the nearly one billion people without safe drinking water, today’s water crisis is not an issue of sacristy but of access’.

It is the systematic social exclusions that are not challenged in the developed or developing world in regards to access to clean drinking water (Melamed and Samman, 2013).

The MDGs have not managed to invoke behaviour change of the government of Slovenia to prioritise the individual’s human right to water and sanitation or ensure the equitable distribution of clean water.

Discussion between the UN and civil society is already taking place to devise a post-2015 MDG development framework (Melamed and Samman, 2013).  It waits to be seen if there will be a real attempt to challenge the barrier of discrimination so communities, such as the Roma in Slovenia will no longer be denied their human right to water.

Anna Keane

Food for Thought

As millions across the world living in extreme poverty were forced again to feed themselves for less than £1 a day, many more joined them this week as part of the Live Below the Line campaign. The campaign challenged people in the UK to live on a fiver from Monday until Friday to get them thinking about what poverty really means on a day-to-day basis (and to raise some money while they were doing it!).


Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children are some of the organisations behind this campaign and having read blogs and articles all week about people’s experiences, what struck me is how much we take for granted.

I spent yesterday afternoon wandering around Borough market, admiring the piles of fresh fruit, the vast wheels of cheese and shining fishmonger stalls and munching through a salt beef sandwich. I am beyond lucky. Deciding what I want for dinner and then going to the shop to buy the ingredients is something I am able to do each week. Having the means to do this is a luxury. My basic human right to food is being fulfilled, and then some!

This right to food is universal; it is codified in international law under Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. But why do I have enough food? Why are there people in the world who have so little to eat that they die of starvation?

Human rights scholar, Michael Freeman, highlighted this in his book, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach. He stated that ‘the rhetoric of human rights is universal; the scope of human rights is not: there is a human right to food, but millions starve’.


The Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign is also working to close this gap between the rights outlined in existing legislation, and reality. The IF campaign is focused on four issues: aid, tax, land, and transparency. The idea is that there will be enough food for everyone if leaders act on these issues by giving ‘enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves’, by stopping large companies from ‘dodging tax in poor countries’, by stopping ‘poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars’ and if governments and companies are ‘honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food’.

There are concerns that the IF campaign lacks a clear message and is just a new version of the Make Poverty History campaign. However, with 150 organisations behind it and a plan of action linked to David Cameron’s Hunger Summit and the UK G8 Summit, both in June, perhaps this campaign will have a real impact in tackling world hunger.

A photo essay published last week ( gave an insight into the weekly diet of families around the world. The variety of fresh produce, packaged foods and bottled drinks was fascinating. One photo that stood out was of a family in Chad who sat with a sack of rice, another of lentils and some smaller bags of what looked like spices and limes. Scroll down the page and there is a picture of a family in Germany with upwards of 50 bottles and cartons of wine, beer and juice in among their weekly shop.

It is clearer now more than ever that as a global community we need to re-evaluate what it means to have “enough”.

What can you do? The IF campaign has outlined six areas get involved in, including fundraising and upcoming events: It’s also not too late to take part in the Live Below the Line challenge and raise money for the Global Poverty Project:

Georgia Booth