Protecting street children from road risk in Georgia
Access to safe roads and road safety education is vital for any child or young person. But what about those children who have nowhere to go to learn even the most basic road safety skills and who are the most exposed of all road users?
In Georgia it is estimated that around 2,500 children live on the streets. Official data does not record the number of street children involved in road traffic collisions. Yet their vulnerability is evident, as they gather around areas near traffic lights and road crossings, and walk between lanes of traffic.
With the support of EASST and the FIA Foundation, the Partnership for Road Safety (PfRS) in Georgia have sought to help these vulnerable children by driving a ground-breaking study into the risks they face every day and developing the first-ever evidence-based strategy for protecting street children from road risk.
Exposed and vulnerable
The PfRS study shows the extremely high levels of risk these exceptionally vulnerable kids face on a daily basis. It reinforces just how urgent the need is to put road safety on the political agenda as well as to make even the most basic road safety education accessible to all children.
Thirty-two high-risk areas were identified around Tbilisi, Rustavi and Kutaisi where the children gather and spend time – most on busy junctions or by main roads. Survey data found that over 60 per cent of street children spend three hours of more out on the street every day, and mainly at night. The exposure of these children to road risk is therefore high, as is their exposure to the respiratory health effects caused by high levels of congestion and air pollution. A risk most aren’t even aware of.
Safe and healthy roads
Overcrowded roads and speeding were cited by a number of children as amongst the biggest risks they face, and 25 per cent admitted to having been involved in a road traffic collision.
Making roads safer and healthier is essential to protecting street children from road risk. The PfRS has therefore worked closely with the Department of Transport at Tbilisi City Hall to put child safety at the heart of their transport agenda.
Recognising air-pollution and road congestion as the number 1 issue for children’s health, the Transport Department have committed to installing traffic lights and safety islands at road safety “black spots”, making roads safer for pedestrians.
The promotion of sustainable transport has also been made a top policy priority, with the introduction of a new fleet of gas-fuelled buses in Tbilisi as well as the city’s first cycle route.
In July this year a demerit points system was introduced across Georgia to promote responsible driving and reduced speeding. In conjunction with improved enforcement of traffic regulations, the system is already having an effect, with children reporting that in some areas roads are getting safer.
Education and awareness
Research conducted by the Partnership for Road Safety found that street children in Georgia had a very low level of awareness of how to cross roads safely in areas where there are no crossings, or how to walk safely in areas with no pavements. Some did not know how to read traffic lights, or even which side to look first while crossing the road. Any information about wearing bright clothing at night or using reflectors was entirely new.
Awareness of road risk and safe road behaviour is a vital life skill. A core element of the project has involved working directly with street children to provide basic road safety education.
The PfRS devised a regular programme of training sessions for Day & Night Centres such as Caritas Georgia in Tbilisi, Rustavi and Kutaisi – reaching over 300 children aged between 8-18 years old. Given the children’s low literacy levels, dedicated visual and activity-based methods were developed focusing on core road safety messages and real life experiences. The children were encouraged to think about their own role in the road safety process, with a focus on pedestrian safety and visibility at night.
Throughout the project, the Partnership for Road Safety worked closely with the Social Service Agency responsible for street children in Georgia. The Agency sees road risk as a significant danger for the children they work with and are keen to see road safety education permanently embedded within the services they provide for vulnerable children and young people.
To achieve this, the PfRS held special training sessions for social workers and outreach workers in delivering road safety training to kids, so that every child can get the vital knowledge they need to keep safe.
A global vision
The project will produce a set of recommendations to be taken forward by policy makers, influencers and key stakeholders to protect street children more generally. As the project develops, we hope to see many more initiatives aimed at protecting street children from road risk, not just in Georgia, but worldwide. A full report of the Partnership for Road Safety’s work with street children will be available to download soon.