Seventeen-year-old Stephen Ngwali (not real name) hardly relishes life out of the streets. He still lingers in Blantyre City despite several efforts by public authorities and well wishers to find him an alternative dwelling place.
“I have grown up in the street and it is my home,” said Stephen who lost both parents when he was six years old. “There is nobody out there to look after me.”
He was once taken to a children’s centre but wasted no time in planting himself in streets again.
“I failed to adapt to the environment there,” he said.
With few options, street begging has become a form of survival for him.
Stephen is just one among hundreds of street children that are still loitering in city streets of Blantyre, Mzuzu and Lilongwe.
There are no easy answers and ways when it comes to taming children like Stephen out of the streets. But key players associated with this work are still trying their best.
Blantyre District Social Welfare Office has been running a number of programs to provide a safe haven for these children away from the streets.
One of the programs focuses on strengthening families and communities to take care of their extended relations, according to the district’s social welfare officer Trifonia Limbani.
“Through this program, child protection officers sensitize families about some of the laws concerning children like the Child Care Protection and Justice Act,” Limbani said.
The other programs include rehabilitation of street children who are already on the streets and reunite them with their families and conducting sweeping exercises together with the police and judiciary whenever there is an increase of children in the city streets.
But efforts to remove children from the streets are meeting some challenges, according to Limbani.
“Many families are poor and cannot afford to provide for these children. As such, the children are back in the streets just a few days after being reunited with their families,” she said.
Limbani also cited lack of resources in their work for carrying out sweeping exercises.
But she is hopeful that the battle will be won with sensitization meetings done in communities by child protection workers and the presence of rehabilitation centres for integrating street children in proper process of child development.
Chisomo Children’s Club in Blantyre is one of the rehabilitation centres that accommodate vulnerable children.
Centre manager Auspicious Ndamuwa said apart from providing the children shelter, the centre is trying to empower children through skills development. They also have a team of social workers who move around the city and take the street children to their centre.
“We give them guidance, counseling and life skills lesson,” Ndamuwa said.
But he bemoaned the conduct of the general public of offering alms to street children saying this reinforces their behavior of begging in the streets.
He added that in order to deal with the problem, they are sensitizing the general public on the measures to take when assisting street children instead of giving them money.
Eye of the Child, an organization dealing with child rights issues, is also working towards improving the lives of children through enforcement of the Child Care and Protection Act.
Executive Director for Eye of the Child Maxwell Matewere said the law mandates every member of society to take a child who is wondering in the streets to a nearby police station so that his or her parents should be questioned for neglecting the child.
“If found, parents are taken to court and asked to pay a fine, save jail or do community service,” Matewere said.
He added that enforcement of this law mainly focuses on duties and responsibilities of parents or guardians towards their children.
Government is also intensifying efforts in strengthening reintegration and rehabilitation services in order to enhance the protection of children living and working in streets, according to spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Lucy Bandazi.
“The ministry is planning to conduct outreach programs targeting the children to make sure that they stay out of the streets for good,” Bandazi said.
A research of street children done by Retrak in partnership with Chisomo Children’s club indicates that the country’s capital city, Lilongwe has the highest number of street children with an estimation of 87 percent followed by Blantyre with 82 percent.
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