Many films have been made about street children. Some good, some not. The kids are a thankful target for filmmakers like myself, as we ardently become sponges for their heartfelt stories. With so much done already, why then, I was often asked, make another documentary about one? The answer is simple: by means of a compelling story which accompanies a young street mother and her baby for over a year, I want to draw attention to the alarming reality of homeless kids who are setting out to start their own families. This is new.
During several years of research, we found that the proliferation of a next generation of street children is largely undocumented. Governments, NGO’s, academics, filmmakers… not even Unicef manages data on children who are born on the city streets. Statistically, they are all treated the same, while the social differences between parents and their children are enormous.
In Nicaragua, as in most countries, children and teens end up on the street because they are running away from extreme poverty, domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. Arriving alone in the city, they’ll befriend others their age and are quickly absorbed in a street community that becomes their family. Having enjoyed some years of basic education, kids tend to be between six and 12 years old when they spend their first night on a piece of cardboard under the stars.
I always refer to them – quite unacademically – as the first generation. They are the ones who some years later decide to have children themselves. The second generation – babies like Karla in Karla’s Arrival – are not on the run from some previous life. They are homeless from day one. Unlike their parents, they won’t know what it’s like to live under a roof or have a family in the traditional sense of the word (although the street community haphazardly offers some alternative).
They might not ever go to school and won’t be registered as citizens of their country. Chances are that formally they won’t exist and, as a result, will have no right to education or health care. It’s no small problem either. Estimations are that there are 75 million girls living on the world’s streets. Most of them will at least bear one child before they turn 18. This is an enormous, worldwide, complex yet unknown problem. Ironically, and on the bright side, the baby can be part of the solution. While a young mother’s low self-esteem might inhibit her from leaving the streets, a son or daughter can mark a turning point. Their babies offer them something which will have been lacking in their own lives – unconditional love – and are seen to be more important than themselves.
A desire to offer their child a better life is reason enough to seek help, which generally is not hard to come by. For me, it goes without saying that becoming a parent is the most basic of human rights which should be available to all. Making Karla’s Arrival was all about opening a debate which revolves around the question of how we can create the conditions to make this a reality for everyone. And besides that, luckily, we came across a touching and hopeful story.
Koen Suidgeest (Amsterdam, 1967) is a Dutch filmmaker based in Madrid (Spain). He is the director of the ITVS-funed Karla’s Arrival, which will air on Link TV’s Doc Debut in May.
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