Gender Gender

Rehabilitating street children

VICE-President Inonge Wina (centre back row) interacts with homeless children from around Lusaka during the independence party held in their honour at Nakatindi Hall yesterday. PICTURE: STAFRANCE ZULU

YOU see them lying around in road side drainages with plastic bottles firmly pressed against their noses, sniffing away at genkem to get rid of hunger pangs and maybe other hidden pain, street children.
I enjoy my take away food, and it is becoming all too common to have a five-year-old child lurking by the door way or sitting begging for a coin. How do you refuse?
The problem of street children is one that; firstly, it takes away my appetite and secondly it makes me wonder where their parents are. Okay, maybe they are orphans, so the question is where are their guardians or other family members? Then again, where are the authorities?
The Zambia Police Service in conjunction with the Ministry of Gender and Child Development and Ministry of Community Development’s Social Welfare Department run the Child Protection Unit (CPU).
CPU senior investigations officer Michael Kasanda says that various interventions are undertaken to remove children from the streets.
“As a unit we patrol the city, and most street children are found at known places, traffic lights, the Kafue roundabout and shopping malls. These children are taken to places of safety where, we as the police, then begin to investigate their background on a case by case basis.”
“If it is found that the child has run away from an abusive environment, then we either counsel the family or take other actions to ensure the well-being of the child,” he said.
Mr Kasanda noted, however, that some children find the allure of easy money an attraction to living on the street, hence it is close to impossible to rid the city of street children.
Fortunately, there are many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and church-based organisations that are working to try and assist vulnerable children.
The Ministry of Youth and Sport in collaboration with the Zambia National Service also offers rehabilitation and skills training for older children in a bid to provide them with alternatives to living on the street.
On the problem of drug and alcohol abuse, the organisation Serenity Harm Reduction Programme Zambia (SHARPZ) provides rehabilitation and counselling services, not only to street children who are addicts but to their families as well.
While a lot of the children living on the street may be running away from physical or sexual abuse, a major contributor is neglect by parents. Many children are growing without proper guidance as their parents, especially single mothers, spend most of their days at work.
Many children, especially young girls end up prostituting themselves for easy money and when they fall pregnant, which they inevitably do, they are not able to return to their families and so start small “street families”. However, CPU and like-minded organisations are still on hand to try and assist such young girls by offering counselling, rehabilitation and family planning service.
According to a 2010 Save the Children – Sweden, Zambia ranked 22 out of 52 in the index ranking of child protection in the African Report on Child Wellbeing, developed by the African Child Policy Forum.
The NGO states that with increasing poverty and the significant negative effects of HIV and AIDS, children are becoming progressively more vulnerable.
In a study done on corporal punishment of children in the home and in school, it was revealed that within a two-week period, 23.8 percent of the children interviewed reported being hit by the hand and 24 percent being hit by an object in the home.
In schools, 32 percent of children reported being hit by the hand and 38.2 percent reported being beaten with an object. Corporal punishment of children seems to be a generally accepted and deep-rooted practice to discipline children. There is very limited awareness amongst adults of alternative, non-violent methods of child-rearing.
A work mate, just yesterday complained about witnessing a parent insult and physically-assault a toddler who was trying to resist having his hair cut in the barber shop. He says he didn’t know whether to beat up the man, tell him off or just leave it. He opted to advise the man to treat the child like a child.
Many a time, we as ordinary community citizens witness child abuse or child neglect and there are avenues to remedy such situations.
If you are concerned about the way a child or children in your community are being treated, all you have to do is report the matter to the police. Your information is treated as confidential and the cases are investigated with the appropriate action then taken.
You can also get in touch with the organisation, CHAMP on the toll free number 990 (a 24 hour helpline) or the Child Protection Unit on 097 7521871) to report any case or form of child abuse.
Either family counselling, prosecution or removal of the child from the abusive environment will be undertaken. Even though staff levels may be limited, the social protection teams are very vigilant and responsive.
I am sure we have all seen children that escort the visually-challenged through the streets asking for alms, this is a form of child abuse that should be discouraged and perhaps a bit more should be done to educate these people.
Many a time children are hired for the day and miss out on school, which is compulsory in Zambia. Instead of reaching into your pocket to find a coin or K2, I challenge you to ask the child if they know that education is free and that you, as an adult, contribute to the general tax system in this great nation that provides services to ensure the welfare of children.
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