SITEMBILE SIWAWA, Lusaka
A SOMBRE mood engulfed the whole place as tears rolled down peopleâ€™s cheeks when Mary Tembo (17) emotionally shared her experience about the sexual abuse she has suffered at the hands of other street children daily.
With a solemn heart- breaking song done by the Sakala Brothers playing in the background, Mary seemingly turned the whole event into a funeral service when she mentioned that she also suffered sexual abuse from police officers and security guards at the expense of giving her solace.
This news sent shivers down the spine of the listeners who found it rather absurd that security personnel, who are supposed to be the custodians of the law and order, actually engage themselves in such vices.
Mary narrated that street girls hardly sleep at night because they are repeatedly raped and defiled by older male street children.
â€œWhen we run to the police station to seek help and shelter, the police officers take turns in defiling us, saying we have no choice but to give in because we need their protection. Sometimes security guards come to pick us for sex in exchange for a place to sleep,â€ she lamented.
The plight of street children, whose stories remain untold because no one bothers to hear them. They have no one to fight for them; no one to help them seek medical services when they are defiled, sodomised and raped.
The ordeal faced by Mary and other girls has seen an increase in the HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection (STI) levels among street children.
Boys on the streets are also faced with a risk of sodomy from older male street children and homosexuals in communities.
Uhm! When everyone seems to care less, heavens have smiled on the street children as Fountain of Hope (FoH) launched a One Stop Drop-in centre for street children. The centre will be a safety net to save the lives of street children and others.
The facility, which is based in Lusakaâ€™s Kamwala township and supported by Save the Children, is an appropriate and supreme means to deal with the gender- based violence street children face.
FOH founder and board chairperson Rodgers Mwewa explained that the One Stop Drop-in centre has been designed to save both the children on the streets and others that do not have access to quality and timely healthcare services.
â€œAs you may be aware, these abuses include sexual abuse which is the primary transfer of HIV/AIDS and STIs among children,â€ he charged.
Mr Mwewa, who is also Mwansabombwe member of Parliament, said the facility will have a clinic which will provide care services aimed at preventing transmission through the administration of post-exposure prophylaxis (PRP) to sexually-abused girls, and offer effective contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies that come with such abuse.
â€œWe will also administer treatment to victims that will ensure STIs are brought to an end,â€ he added.
Aside from treatment, the centre will have paralegals who will advise on the law once a case of defilement is established and counsellors will also be housed there.
FoH, which opened its doors to the public in 1996, has over the past decade helped more than 100 children to attain their higher education.
FoH school caters for 500 children from grade one to seven and offers 120 children with good shelter and protection, as well as access to basic human needs.
However, FoH has a challenge of a safe house for street girls but there is an alternative arrangement where Young Women Christian Association houses them.
This cheered Gender and Child Health minister Inonge Wina who commended FoH for this unusual initiative. The visibly elated Ms Wina said such an initiative is welcome as it supplements Governmentâ€™s efforts in the fight against streetism and gender-based violence against street children.
She charged that the levels of HIV/AIDS and STIs are high and Government will create the much-needed conducive environment for the children to realise their full potential.
Ms Wina said the pandemic is robbing the children of their childhood, which is not supposed to be the case as they are a foundation of any nation.
â€œThe facility will greatly assist our children who fall victim to gender-based violence in its many forms, namely defilement, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse. It will decongest the streets and offer hope to children,â€ she said.
And Kabwata member of Parliament Given Lubinda applauded the efforts of FOH and further thanked them for choosing his constituency to build such a facility.
Mr Lubinda noted that the burden of street children is for everyone and society should endeavour to help and not leave it to Government alone.
He has also appealed to Government to include the building of recreational facilities in the 2015 national budget.
â€œLack of recreational facilities has contributed to streetism among children and those who have once been there are prompted to go back because they have nothing to keep them busy. Therefore I am appealing to our Minister of Gender, Ms Wina, to consider refurbishing our already-existing play park here in Kabwata Constituency,â€ Mr Lubinda urged.
Additionally, Save the Children director programme operations Chilobe Kambikambi observed that a child in Zambia is fraught with hard realities.
Ms Kambikambi said the One Stop Drop-in Centre will achieve immediate and lasting change in the lives of the children.
She said, â€œSave the Children is very proud to support and be part of this launch of the One Stop Drop-in centre here at the FOH.â€
Children comprise more than 51 percent of Zambiaâ€™s population and these young citizens need protection from the risks that threaten their rights and well-being.
Sadly, Zambia is ranked 36th out of 52 in the index ranking of child protection in the African report on childrenâ€™s well-being developed by the African Child Policy forum.
Therefore, building partnerships is one of the pillars that will address this picture Zambia is currently mirrored on.
Street child narrates sexual abuse ordeal
SITEMBILE SIWAWA, Lusaka