Tuesday, September 10, 2013

'It's painful to see children suffering on the streets'
By Editor
Sat 17 Aug. 2013, 14:00 CAT

THE presence of so many children on our streets constitutes an affront to all of us. A stable, permanent solution must be found to this serious problem.

This is an affront to our collective conscience. It is an imperative need of our times to be aware of these realities, because of what a situation affecting so many children entails in terms of human suffering and the squandering of life and intelligence.

We agree with Godfrey Simukonde, Child Rights activist, that the prevalence of street children is a huge problem in Zambia and that not much has been done by our successive governments, including the current one, to address the problem. We also agree with Simukonde when he says that, "if the government does not look after the street children, no one will, so they should just budget for them and remove them from the streets".

The Zambian government is a signatory to a number of international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children. And all these instruments emphasise taking appropriate measures and strategies to promote and protect the rights and welfare of the children in Zambia, including street children. These instruments provide for enhancement of dignity for every child in a
non-discriminatory manner and equal access to children's rights, child participation, family unity and best interests of the child. These are vital principles of the human rights best approach to the protection of children's rights.

Every child has a right to live with his or her parents or guardians and every parent has the responsibility for his or her child.
While these children are on the streets, they are exposed to multiple hazards. For example, children on the street are exposed to sexual abuse, poor health conditions, crime, child labour, drug abuse and child prostitution. They are often prey to every physical and moral danger and as they grow older, they could become a danger to the community.

Street children face untold hardship and danger on the streets. They lack food, clean water and adequate health care. Living on the streets exacts a terrible toll on street children.

The causes of the problem of street children are many and varied; they include loss of parental control, orphanhood, peer pressure, impact of HIV/AIDS and others.The situation has been aggravated by poverty and limited opportunities for alternative livelihoods.

Street children have a right to be entitled to adequate food, shelter, education, healthcare and protection, just like any child.

There is no quick fix to this complex problem. It should be pointed out that resettling and rehabilitating street children without addressing the factors that send children to the streets is an unstable solution in the long run. There is an urgent need to address the causes and not just the symptoms. The factors that push children on the streets must be addressed.

The family institution in Zambia is going through a lot of uproar. Few children have stable and loving family environments. Many families are also increasingly characterised by absent parents, lack of communication between parents and children, alcoholism and domestic violence. Many children run away to the streets to avoid violence and abuse in the family.

In Zambia, it is now a frequent issue to hear of horrifying stories of abuse of children by parents or family members. So many stories are published on these issues every week in our news media outlets. Children as young as eight months are increasingly being sexually abused, starved and ignored by the family and community at large. In most cases, children are lured to the streets by the peers or by individuals promising better opportunities. Adults are increasingly using children as sources of income and thus violating and denying children of their basic human rights.

As things stand today, there seems to be little likelihood of finding a lasting solution to the problem of street children without involving the street children themselves. While coming up with policies, strategies and programmes that affect them, it is the role of all of us to ensure that their rights are promoted and protected.

A society which values its future affords the highest priority to looking after all its children.

Children are the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures.

Our children must no longer be tortured by the pangs of hunger or ravaged by disease and forced by neglect to live on the street.
Our children should no longer be required to engage in deeds whose gravity exceeds the demands of their tender years. We have heard enough about the molestation and abuse of children. An end must be put to this.

As we approach 50 years of independence, the value of the work that has been done over these decades will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of our children.

The children who live on the street, reduced to begging to make a living, are a testimony of an unfinished job.

There can be no keener revelation of our nation's soul than the way in which we treat our children. The true character of our nation is revealed in how we treat our children.

The basic clay of our work is our children. We should place our hope in them and prepare them to take the banner from our hands. Each of our children has a right to special care and attention. The welfare and interests of the child should be recognised and protected. The children are vulnerable and therefore need special protection. The interests of the child should take precedence in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.

The rights and welfare of the child are best realised in the context of the welfare of the family. The promotion of the welfare of the child therefore requires the promotion of the welfare of the family.

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