30 January 2013

Zambia: Govt Plans for Street Children

Rehabilitation centres and skills training camps is an indication of government's desire to better the lives of street children.

"THE best place for any child to develop properly is a home", Dr Joseph Katema, Minister of Community Development and Social Services said recently.

While it is the right of every child to live and grow up in a secure environment, making it a reality for all still remains a pipe-dream as more children continue to bear the brunt of various social changes that cause them to be further marginalised.

"I was forced to live on the streets for two years because of the challenges I faced at home after my mother died," says 15-year-old Steven Mwamba (not real name), who is currently under the care of Young Men's Christian Association of Zambia (Zambia YMCA).

Steven, who recently made it to Grade Eight, said "I sometimes went for days without food and even dropped out of school but my father did not seem to be bothered."

The street children phenomenon is not a new development.

However, coming up with lasting solutions aimed at addressing it is what seems to be a challenge.

The term 'street children' is often used to refer to young persons that work and or live on the streets.

National studies conducted between 2004 and 2010 estimates the street child population to be between 35,000 and 75,000.

According to a 2006 study commissioned by the then Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, the most significant drivers of the street child population appear to be a complex of poverty, parental mortality (especially the father), lack of access to education and limited alternatives.

The aforementioned study "Street Children, Working towards a Solution" found that only 15 per cent of the children surveyed were female and about 25 per cent of children seen on the street during the day actually sleep there.

At least 70 per cent of the children surveyed indicated that they did not attend school and 67 per cent described themselves as not being able to read a newspaper.

The study indicated that while Zambia's free basic education policy means that a child should be able to attend a government school without paying fees, there are other requirements such as uniforms, books and examination fees that make school an unaffordable luxury to the poorest families.

This somehow defies the purpose of concept.

The reports indicated that street children represent a special category of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs).

Their vulnerability is exacerbated by the partial or complete absence of support structures based on kinship, education and general social cohesion.

"I hang around trading places during the day and spend nights at funeral houses in Misisi compound. Securing a place to sleep is not much of a challenge as there is always a funeral in the neighbourhood," said 16-year-old Peter Zulu (Not real name).

Peter's father died when he was seven years old.

He said; "life became unbearable for me and my siblings. Our mother who has been unwell for years could not afford to fend for us. I found myself engaging in illicit activities just to survive."

Despite challenges in meeting the needs of OVCs, Government continues to demonstrate commitment towards alleviating the suffering of street children.

The establishment of rehabilitation centres and skills training camps is an indication of Government's desire to improve the lives of street children.

For instance, the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH) through the Department of Social Welfare, has interventions aimed at preventing abject poverty and destitution in the home, an aspect that has been reported as contributing significantly to the problem of street children in Zambia.

These include, among others, the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme (PWAS) and the Social Cash Transfer System and the establishment of Street Children Committees (SCC) in selected districts identified as high-risk areas.

However, stakeholders note that most of Government's programmes were not designed to generate their own financial resources and depended solely on Government allocations.

YMCA programmes manager, Jonas Ngulube said there is need to come up with sustainable approaches to make any significant strides in terms of responding to the needs of street children and other OVCs.

He said studies indicate that building the capacity of households and communities where the children come from presents a great opportunity for policies aimed at reducing the risk of children going on the street.

"We need to invest in strategies that promote self-reliance. This would not only promote economic emancipation but also take the pressure off Government whose major responsibility is to create an environment for such to take happen," Mr Ngulube said.

Mr Ngulube said since its establishment in 2010 Zambia, YMCA Street Kids Project has trained a total of 90 parents and guardians of street children in entrepreneurial skills after which the organisation gave them small grants.

He said the organisation, through its Street Kids Project also provides educational support to children from vulnerable households and facilitates skills training for vulnerable youths.

It also runs a feeding programme for children in its catchment area including Chawama, Misisi, Kuku, Chibolya and John Laing.

Children are given breakfast and lunch. Peer educators at the centre take children through literacy classes, drama, sports and devotion.

The project also runs home tracing and reintegration and placement of children into shelters and homes.

More than 70 per cent of persons that received training in entrepreneurial skills are now running small businesses.

Records indicate improvements in the quality of life in these households. Children are now able to have at least a meal a day and are now going to school.

Currently, Zambia does not have a specific policy on street children apart from the National Child Policy whose overall aim is to improve the standards of living in general and the quality of life for the Zambian child in particular.

Some policy objectives are to reduce the number of children on the street, provide support to orphaned and disabled children and to improve the welfare and status of women in Zambia.

One clear fact is that the street children phenomenon is indeed one that requires a multi-sectoral response.

The starting point could be the development of a national plan of action as recommended by experts.

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