2001 ZAM: Rapid Assessment of Street Children in Lusaka
Author: Lemba, M.; Project Concern International Zambia
In order to acquire detailed information about street children to assist in more effectively planning and implementing such programs, a group of NGO service providers organized as the Africa KidSAFE (Shelter, Advocacy, Food, and Education) Network, together with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS) Consultative Group on the Care and Reintegration of Street Children, undertook a rapid assessment of street children in Lusaka in April and May 2001. The NGOs involved included Fountain of Hope, MAPODE, Red Cross Drop-In Centre, St. Lawrence Home of Hope, FLAME, Mthunzi Centre, Lazarus Project, and Jesus Cares Ministries, with technical and financial support from Project Concern International Zambia and UNICEF.
Purpose / Objective
The main objectives of the rapid assessment were:
- to provide information on the basic demographics, background characteristics, and needs of street children in Lusaka
- to provide information to NGOs, the government, and other stakeholders for planning and implementing a program of withdrawal of children from the streets
- to build the capacity of NGOs to systematically gather and record information on street children
NGOs, together with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, provided input into the development of a questionnaire for collecting data on street children, based on a questionnaire developed earlier by PCIZ and FOH. The NGOs assigned staff members to participate in the assessment and were trained in the use of the questionnaire and data collection techniques. Each of the eight participating NGOs was assigned a zone of the city, where they identified street children and interviewed them using the questionnaire. Some of the NGOs also administered the questionnaire to children who were at that time residing in or attending their respective centres.
All street children found in the selected sites were interviewed. Street children were identified by the interviewers using criteria such as appearance, language, and assessment of their activities (begging, scavenging, leading the blind, sleeping in corridors, gambling, etc.). Selected street children, gang leaders, and shop owners in the case of shopping areas were also used to help identify additional street children. A total of 1,232 children ranging in age from 4 to 18 years were interviewed for the assessment. Over 60% were 12-16 years of age. This included 175 from the NGO centres.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Over half of the children interviewed were single or double orphans; only 42% of the children had both parents alive. However, nearly eight in ten children had at least one living parent, and more than nine in ten had one or both parents and/or a close relative still alive. Thus, fewer than 10 percent of the sample had no living parents or relatives.
More than family status, life on the streets was revealed to be strongly linked to poverty. A majority of the children were currently living in, or had originated from, low-income compounds of Lusaka or other towns. Further, of those with parents or guardians, the vast majority (over 90%) indicated that these caregivers were unemployed. A majority of the children cited poverty or financial needs as the primary reason for being on the streets, with a significant portion also citing family problems or mistreatment.
Most children interviewed were not abandoned by their families, nor were they living exclusively on the streets. Roughly two-thirds reported living with either parents or relatives. Most (over 70%) were on the streets only during the day; only a quarter spent both days and nights on the streets. Life on the streets exclusively at nights was more common among girls than boys; spending any time on the streets at night increased significantly at around 10-12 years of age for both boys and girls.
The areas where street children were most commonly found included markets, bars, streets, shopping centers, bus stops, and car parks. A variety of activities were reported by the children as a means of earning a living. Over half of them engaged in some sort of work (selling foods, doing part time jobs, etc.), including one percent who admitted being involved in prostitution. One in five resorted to begging, while another 13% relied on support from family members.
The earnings of the children varied considerably, from as low as K100 to over K100,000 per day. The most lucrative activity, by far, was prostitution. Not unrelated to this finding, girls reported earning considerably more on average than boys. In all cases, earnings were spent primarily on food and clothing.
Outside assistance for children living on the streets came most frequently from strangers and passers-by, followed by friends. Social welfare officers or the police were cited by less than two percent and one percent of respondents, respectively. Most children (over 60%) said that they did not know where to go for help in case they had a problem.
Despite relatively high awareness of NGOs or churches providing assistance to street children --over half of the children knew of at least one such center -- NGOs and churches accounted for a relatively limited amount of assistance. Only about one-third of the children had ever been to a center, and between 10 and 20 percent were currently staying at one.
The main reasons given for not staying at the centers for street children included fear of fights, fear of beatings, and a lack of food. The lack of opportunity to make money was also commonly mentioned, as was, among girls, the fear of sexual abuse. Among children who knew of a center, a higher percentage of boys than girls had been to the center they named (65% vs. 55%). But, of those who had been to the center, a higher percentage of girls than boys were still patronizing it (68% vs. 46%). This implies that it may be more difficult to convince girls to go to a center, but once they are there, they are more likely to stay there than boys.
Of the 1,232 children in the assessment, about three-quarters were no longer attending school. On the other hand, one-quarter of the children found on the streets were still attending school. Over half of these were at community schools, while nearly 40% were at government schools, and a small percentage reported attending private schools. Most children on the streets had at one point attended school; only 36% had not. Those who had ever been to school reported having reached, on average, grade 4 level, with nearly one in five having reached grade 6 or higher.
In almost all cases, the reasons given for not attending school or for having dropped out were financial, i.e., because they or their caregivers could not afford to pay school fees and other necessary school requirements.
The most commonly cited health problems experienced by children in the rapid assessment included malaria, headache, cough, abdominal pains, and diarrhea. As would be expected, a significant proportion of the children's ailments were treated outside of the formal health sector.
Among children aged 12-18 years, 4.3% of boys and 17.1% of girls reported having had a sexually transmitted infection. Over half of the 18 year-old girls, 40% of the 17 year-old girls, and 20% of the 16 year-old girls admitted to having been pregnant before. Both findings provide evidence that a significant proportion of the children were sexually active.
Knowledge of HIV/AIDS was relatively high among boys (over 80%), but considerably lower among girls (65%). Nearly two-thirds of all children correctly associated HIV/AIDS transmission with sexual activity, blood transfusions, or mother-to-child transmission. As age increased, these levels of knowledge also improved significantly.
Reported drug use among street children was relatively high, with nearly one in four admitting using drugs, most commonly marijuana and/or glue, but also including 'jenkem' (fermented sewage), 'ballan' (uncured tobacco), cigarettes, petrol, beer, and cocaine. Drug use was found to be associated with both age and sex, being more commonly reported among boys and among children over 11 years of age.
Over half of the children reported being exposed to violence on the streets, especially in the form of fights and/or beatings. Boys were more likely than girls to experience this type of violence.
Of those who participated in other activities, sports and church were most frequently mentioned. Sports were more popular among boys than girls; the reverse was true for church.
Asked what assistance they most needed, a majority of children (over 70%) wanted help getting an education. A considerable number, especially older children, wanted assistance finding employment, learning a trade, or starting a business.
A workshop to disseminate and discuss the findings of the rapid assessment was held in March 2002. Participants at the dissemination workshop, including representatives of national and local government authorities, non-governmental organizations, donor organizations, and the media, proposed a number of recommendations for action based on the results. Recommendations were focused in the areas of community and family support, government policy, service provision standards, and networking. The need to target not only street children but also their families and communities as part of a longer-term strategy to facilitate the reintegration of street children and to prevent further migration to the streets, underpinned many of the recommendations.
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