The Herald (Harare)

9 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Weeping Voices From the Streets

opinion

CASES of sexual abuse on children living on the streets are notably increasing although there are no ready statistical figures at hand since most of them go unreported due to several factors. Street kids are being abused by people living in our communities and some of them even hold high positions of authority.

A quick survey by this reporter proved that these children are being abused almost on daily basis but chances of them reporting such cases to the police remain blocked because of the bad situation that surrounds them.

Privilege Moyo (not her real name) aged 16 is one of these children who are experiencing both sexual and verbal abuse on the streets.

"I started living on the streets when I was six years old and I am being sexually abused by male peers whom I stay with at a Mbare base. We often have unprotected sex, at times it would be consensual but mostly it would be forced. I have never bothered to go and report them because I fear that they will chase me away from the base," Moyo said.

She added that she was impregnated at fifteen by one of the boys whom she resides with at the Mbare base before she transferred to the Five Avenues Girls Quarter base.

"I was not taking any contraceptives and these boys would take turns to rape me. They would bring food for me which they snatch or beg from the street," she added.

The poor girl said she is now failing to acquire her two month year-old baby's birth certificate because the birth records were confiscated by Harare Central Hospital after she failed to pay the hospital fees.

Felix Magumo (19) who has been living on the streets for the past five years said she was engaged by Streets Ahead to work as a peer educator since he is facing the same challenges.

"There are some police officers who always move around the streets during the night and arrest our peer girls for loitering, they solicit for sex in order for them to get released. The courageous ones go to the police station to report but none of their cases have been taken to court as we are persons of no fixed abode and we are often referred to as liars by those who are supposed to protect us, it pains," said Magumo.

He added that some of the children living on the streets are infected with some sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, herpes and warts.

"Some die before they even access medication or even know their status due to financial constrains and yet people laugh saying "MaStreet kids anofa nechando, ndivoka vakomana veZed" (Street kids die because of illicit alcohol intake and cold) and no investigations would be carried out just because we do not have a place to call home or someone to lean on," he added.

Other children living on the streets who preferred anonymity said they are being sexually abused by some soldiers, security guards, sugar daddies and mothers who come at night with flashy cars and cash.

"What you refer to as an abuse can end up being a wrong definition to us because once we receive such kind of gifts from the abusers we don't report. We need food, money, lotions and nice clothes, so even if they abuse us we don't report them because they spare our lives when we are in crisis," said Kelvin.

Kelvin (10) stays in a shack made on pieces of card board boxes and plastics at the corner of Samora Machael Avenue and Fourth street with his friend.

"I came into the streets when I was only four after the death of my mother. My stepmother used to beat me and accuse me of stealing, that is why I decided to free myself and I am enjoying life here, I was never sexually abused although there are some attempts by some of my colleagues," said Kelvin.

Mr Chitiga Mbanje a Health Promoter with Streets Ahead said he often assists these children with health education, medication as well as supporting them with behaviour change techniques.

"Children living on the streets face numerous forms of abuse as compared to those in homes. On a monthly basis in Harare alone we receive 30-35 cases of these children suffering from STIs which is a true reflection that they are being abused or indulging in unprotected sex," he said.

He urged societies to take a closer look on the plight of these children and help to reduce such cases.

According to a study carried out by Lameck Ngulube from the School of Social Work in 2010 on children living on the streets, the girl child is the most vulnerable once exposed to such circumstances.

The study reveals some of the challenges faced by street kids such as early exposure to sexual activities, highly susceptible to sexually transmitted infections, accessing adequate information on sexual reproductive health as well as harassment from the public and law enforcement agents.

The boys are sodomised and bullied, while on the other hand the girls are highly at risk of sexual and gender based violence, manifested in the form of exploitation, bullying, unwanted pregnancies, poor access to sanitary ware, as well as complications due to unsuccessful or incomplete abortions.

Ngulube said the effort should be made, to strengthen the family unit as a step towards addressing these challenges.

He also emphasised on the importance of sex education among children living on the streets to avoid the imaging of new cases of STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

The study reveals that 80% of females living on the streets are at risk of being raped while only 18% of boys suffer the same fate.

It also states that 28% of sexual abuses among boys occur at home while 62% occurs on the streets and 70% of the girls are being abused on the streets while 30% of such cases occur at home.

Children living on the streets have to grapple with challenges on a daily basis in a bid to survive. Streets Ahead is assisting in terms of physiological support, nutrition, peer education as well as family reunification.

However, such kind of support remains hampered due to poor funding.

The Executive Director for Streets Ahead, Mrs Duduzile Moyo said their mandate is not to provide permanent assistance to these children.

"We do not provide accommodation for these children for it's beyond our area of jurisdiction. We offer them short term assistance like food, and medication and they go back to the streets at the end of the day. Our goal is to reunite them with their families such that they can get the best support," she said.

She admitted that they usually receive reports of children living on the streets who are being sexually abused and they assist them medically and legally.

Duduzile urged societies to appreciate problems faced by these children and to support them through identifying talents without discrimination or gender imbalance.

However, sufficient information from this vulnerable group remained a challenge and the fact that sex issues are quite intimate and sensitive most of them refused to open up. According the research carried by Safaids, sexual reproductive health rights education is critical in order to achieve an HIV free generation.

It also proves that the sexual abuse that is happening on the streets does not only affect children who stay on the streets but it leaks to the whole community.

"Children living on the streets also sexually abuse children who live in homes on their way from school so it's everyone's responsibility to assist them especially through removing them from the street corners and reuniting them with their families" said the report.

Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Phiri admitted that sexual abuse among children living on the streets is occurring but there is a greater challenge by them not reporting.

"Yes, we are receiving several reports of sexual abuse of both minors and adults but we can not know whether they are coming from the streets because they don't want to be identified as persons of no fixed abode. More so, we do not have statistical data which classifies victims of such abuse depending with the places they reside because we just combine them," Chief Superintendent Phiri said.

He said, it's rather confusing because some children come to the streets during the day to beg and go back to their homes at night while some stay permanently in the streets. He urged them to report such cases to the police for the law does not discriminate anyone.

"As police we do awareness campaigns pertaining to sexual abuse in all public places including on the streets where these children live.

They have the right to report when wronged but if they don't the police officers would not be able to assist them," he added.

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