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Making street-connected children count

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A national headcount in Sierra Leone and working with UNICEF

Data collection is one of the most complex challenges facing the street child sector and the development sector more broadly, as effective programmes and policy interventions rely on access to accurate, disaggregated data, captured in an ethical and secure way. Street-connected young people are particularly hard to enumerate; they are often nomadic, without permanent addresses and can be hard to identify in public spaces. It is one of StreetInvest’s goals to help governments and the wider sector tackle this issue, and this year has seen some exciting steps in the right direction.

“Data are not systematically collected or disaggregated. The absence of this data makes children invisible. This results in the persistence of multiple rights violations."

United National General Comment No. 21 on children in street situations

In Sierra Leone

At the end of April, StreetInvest joined Street Child of Sierra Leone (SCoSL) and Street Child UK in the capital Freetown, to prepare for a repeat national headcount following the one conducted in 2011, which found 49,698 street-connected children across the country (full report here).

Sierra Leone is still one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 184th out of 189 countries and territories in the 2018 United Nations Development Index, compared to 180th of 187 in 2011. Over the past 20 years, the country has faced a series of crises which have greatly and disproportionately affected children and young people. A brutal ten-year civil war tore the country and its families apart, leaving many children vulnerable. The 2011 count’s final numbers far exceeded counters’ predictions, highlighting the need for accurate data to tackle the impacts of these events on the country’s children.

In the intervening years since the first count, Sierra Leone has experienced the most deadly and complex outbreaks of the EBOLA virus ever recorded by the WHO, claiming over 11,300 lives across West Africa, and leaving many children without parents and caregivers. It is anticipated that the outbreak will be reflected the results, one of the key motivating factors behind conducting a second count.

The 2019 count is being supported by Band Aid Trust and involves a number of StreetInvest partners in the region. A small team from StreetInvest led the initial stages of the count in April. Tijani Mahmoud, Global Trainer and headcount expert, Director of Programmes, Siân Wynne, and Alan Carter, Head of Training, trained 34 individuals as headcount trainers and supervisors (photo above, credit StreetInvest). They also oversaw pilot training and a headcount in the town of Waterloo ahead of the national count, which has now concluded. StreetInvest Global Trainer George Quaker has coordinated the exercise, and organisations involved include StreetInvest partner CODWELA, among others. A full report will be published later this year.


In May, StreetInvest was among a small group of global experts invited to take part in a technical consultation on data collection for children in street situations by UNICEF New York. The team included StreetInvest’s CEO, Duncan and Director of Programmes, Siân; Fred Mbise of Railway Children, who is also a StreetInvest Global Trainer and headcount expert, and Beuter Obura, from the Mombasa Office of Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics, who was involved in the Mombasa headcount last December. StreetInvest shared its headcount methodology, and experiences and expertise from the 2018 Mombasa and Tanzania counts and the 2019 Sierra Leone count, as well as providing a practitioner and rights-based perspective on data collection for street-connected children. StreetInvest are continuing to work with UNICEF and the technical group to move towards a standard protocol for data collection worldwide.

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