Monday, March 26, 2007
Monday March 26, 2007 [02:00]
It is unfortunate that although the problem of street children is acknowledged as one of the key challenges that we face as a nation, very little has been done to deal with it. We have heard many public statements from government leaders on what plans they claim to have in order to deal with this problem in a more serious manner. But as is the case with other development challenges, there is too much rhetoric around the problem of street children.
The nation is aware of some of programmes that the government has undertaken in its attempt to deal with the problem. Such programmes include the highly publicised Zambia National Service (ZNS) street children’s training initiatives. Of course we are mindful that a lot of patience has to be exercised before we can start to see the benefits of such programmes. However, the question to be answered is whether these programmes are adequate enough to offer some kind of permanent solution to this problem.
We are inclined to believe that there has been a lack of serious commitment to finding a long-term solution to the problem of street children. In fact, sometimes we see that the problem of street children has been trivialised.
The truth is that this problem is with us; it stares us in the face every day. But we need to start acting to help save the children on the streets. We have to begin paying attention to their situation because they face numerous problems.
When we talk about street children, we are talking about young people who face poverty, hunger, disease, violence and homelessness. We are talking about children who have resorted to all sorts of drugs because they think this is the only way they can remain happy under their difficult circumstances. These children that have been allowed to live on the streets are on a daily basis exposed to diseases of all sorts. We have seen some of these children on the streets with scurvy or beriberi as a result of poor nutrition since access to food is another problem for them. These children live in and with filth because they do not have anything to call a home.
These are children who have no guarantee to a healthy lifestyle because even when they fall sick, normally they are just left to fend for themselves. Do we ever wonder what happens to these children, some of them very young, when they fall sick? Do we ask ourselves who takes care of the young children when they are ill? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves as we allow young children to live on the streets.
What we should realise is that the children who are being allowed to live on the streets are also vulnerable to all forms of abuse. We are saying this because we know that street children are usually on the front line when it comes to adults looking for victims. There are many reports of street children being sexually abused by some adults.
We may ask ourselves if it is possible to solve all these problems. If there is a will from those in government, we think that the problem of street children should have been behind us by now. We do not understand why it should be difficult for the government to find ways and means of ensuring that, where it is possible, some of the children on the streets are returned to their homes or their families. It may not be possible to return them to their nuclear family which may not be there, but at least some of them can be integrated into extended families. We understand that the realities of poverty have broken the extended family system. But we also know that the system is not completely dead. There are so many children who are growing up, and very well for that matter, within extended families.
We think that it is still possible for the government to devise a system where some of the children on the streets can be traced to their families and allowed to rejoin them. Besides, some of these children have just run away from their homes and they are refusing to leave the streets to which they have become addicted.
Another strategy would be for the government, working with other stakeholders, to come up with sustainable and workable ways of setting up foster homes where these children can be provided with an environment worth calling their home. We are aware that such initiatives have been put in place, especially by non-governmental organisations. However, the initiatives are largely at a low-scale, when compared to the number of children on the streets.
Granted, all these proposals are not easy to implement. But it is also the duty of governments to deal with and find solutions to the most difficult problems. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of a government which cannot deal with the problems of the citizens? We have seen that where the government is determined to deal with a problem, results have been seen. Already, we are seeing that the government actually has the capacity to deal with street vending because our streets are returning to their old self. With the same determination and commitment, the government can easily make our streets free of homeless children.