As part of the process of developing a comprehensive national strategy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Zimbabwe, UNICEF Zimbabwe, in collaboration with the government, donors, and civil society, undertook studies in 2000 aimed at compiling a comprehensive information base on the various categories of vulnerable children. The studies commissioned towards the preparation of this report were as follows:
- A Study on Children Affected by AIDS in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Children Infected with HIV in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Children and Adolescents with Disabilities in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe
- A Literature Review on the Phenomenon of Working Children in Zimbabwe
Each commissioned study has also been listed separately in the database, including a comprehensive Summary Report that synthesizes the five case studies.
Purpose / Objective
The objective of this study was to compile, consolidate and validate available information on street children in order to facilitate the development of a long-term national strategy aimed at promoting, protecting and fulfilling their rights. Thus, the report looks at the situation of street children in Zimbabwe and presents an assessment of the problem. The report presents the causal factors, the effects of the problem of street children, the interventions and responses currently being offered to street children, the emerging gaps, and concludes with possible strategies for intervening in the short- and long-terms.
In this study, the term "street children" is used to refer to children who work and/or sleep on the streets. Such children may or may not necessarily be adequately supervised or directed by responsible adults and include the two co-existing categories referred to by UNICEF as those "on the street" and those "of the street."
The study targeted street children in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru and Kadoma and involved interviewing a sample of 260 street children in the five urban areas. One hundred and thirty-five (135) street children were interviewed in Harare, 55 in Bulawayo, 27 in Mutare, 28 in Gweru and 12 in Kadoma. Their ages ranged from a few months to 18 years and averaged 13 years. There were 220 males and 40 females. Twelve child care workers, 10 males and 2 females were interviewed.
Focused group discussions for street children involved 15 children in Bulawayo and 16 in Harare, while the adult-focused group discussions consisted of two groups of 12. One adult-focused group discussion took place in Bulawayo with 9 males and 3 females, and a second group in Harare with 7 males and 5 females.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The majority (56.9%) of the 260 street children interviewed were children "of the street," who worked and slept on the streets. Thirty-one percent (31.4%) of the street children had homes to go to at night. Most were staying with at least one biological parent while others were staying with members of the extended family. 31.4% of children "on the street" worked on the streets and slept at home. Nearly 12 percent (11.8%) were children who slept both on the streets and at their homes.
The majority (55.9%) of street children came from communal areas while 38.3% came from urban areas, 1.8% from resettlement areas, 2.3% from mining and 1.8% from commercial farming areas (Table 11). These findings confirm what other studies and organisations such as Thuthuka have discovered, that most street children originate from rural areas.
Two hundred and sixty street children, aged 3 months to 18 years, 220 males and 40 females, constituted the sample for this study. The sample's average age was 13 years. Nearly eight percent (7.6%) of the sample were below the age of five, 24.3% were aged six to ten, 42.2% were aged eleven to fifteen, and 25.9% were 16 to 18 years of age. The majority (39.5%) of the street children had spent one to three years on the street. Twenty-four percent (23.9%) had spent one-half to one year, 18.5% had spent under half a year, 11.9% had spent four to six years, 4.1% had spent seven to ten years and 2.1% had spent over eleven years.
Nearly forty-six percent (45.7%) of street children were beggars while 14.7% were vendors, 21.2% guarded cars, and 4.1% were escorting blind parents (Table 5). A number of very young children and babies were "used" by adults to elicit sympathy and obtain money by begging at major street intersections and in busy shopping areas. Babies were "hired" out to child street beggars while the mothers remained somewhere in the vicinity and would earn money for this hiring out of babies. Very young children between the ages of 2 and 6 years were sent out onto the streets by their mothers. She would, in turn, watch over them from a distance. These children would give to their mothers the money "donated" by the public.
Most of the street children (62.3%) reported that they bought their own food using their income (Table 6). Slightly over eighteen percent (18.2%) ate leftovers from restaurants and bins, while 8.2% ate from a drop-in centre and 9.1% ate from home. The vast majority of street children (60.9%) reported that they spend their money on food. A little over fourteen percent (14.2%) reported that they bought their own clothes while 22.7% spend it on meeting family expenses. Children of the street (88.4%) mainly spent their earnings on themselves while the majority (37.1%) of the children on the street and those (34.5%) who slept both at home and on the streets, mainly reported that they spend their money on meeting family expenses.
Over twenty-five percent (25.5%) of the street children had never been to school. Slightly over twenty percent (21.9%) had some lower primary education (Grades 1 to 3) whilst 38.2% had some higher primary education (Grades 4 to 7). Around nine percent (8.8%) had had one to two years of secondary education while only 4.8% had three to four years of secondary education (see Table 10). The majority of the children in all categories had little or no education at all. This contrasts sharply with earlier research showing a marked decline in reported levels of schooling.
Children who slept both at home and on the street were more likely to use intoxicants than any other category. This group appeared more vulnerable to a number of risks due to their apparent lack of experience and street wisdom. The use of intoxicants by street children can be viewed as a risk factor in a number of areas, including sexual abuse and infection with HIV.
Slightly over a quarter (26.2%) of the street children reported they had had sex within the previous six months while the majority (73.8%) had not had sex within the past six months. Of those who reported having had sex within the past six months, 43.8% reported they had one sex partner while the rest had two or more partners. The majority of those who were sexually active (50.8%) were in the 11 to 15 years age group, while 38.5% were in the 16 to 18 years age group and 10.8% were in the 6 to 10 years age group. From this study, it was found that street children are engaged in sex at a very young age.
Over thirty-eight percent (38.5%) of the children could identify at least three symptoms of STIs (STDs) while 61.5% could not mention three symptoms of STIs. Forty-six percent (46%) of the children said they could tell one has HIV just by looking at them while 54% said they could not tell by looking. Half (50%) of the children interviewed could identify at least three ways one can become infected with HIV, while the rest (50%) could not. The majority of the street children (39.5%) said everyone is at risk for getting HIV, while 10.1% felt it was only commercial sex workers, 18.1% felt it was promiscuous persons, 9.7% felt men and 6.5% felt women were at risk of getting HIV. Thirty-two percent (32.4%) identified commercial sex work as a practice that accelerates the spread of STIs, 14.5% mentioned casual sex, 10% mentioned sharing the same women, 24.5% mentioned that they did not know.
Forty-two percent (42.6%) identified at least three ways of preventing AIDS, while the majority 57.4% could not identify three ways of preventing HIV/AIDS. The majority (33.1%) of the street children identified use of condoms as a measure to reduce the spread of HIV, 26.1% mentioned that behaviour change can reduce spread of HIV, 22.4% mentioned that they did not know what
could be done to reduce the spread of AIDS.
Over one half (56.6%) of the street children were concerned with child sexual abuse. Forty percent (40%) of street children mentioned sexual abuse while 39.5% mentioned physical abuse as their concept of child abuse. Very few (12.6%) mentioned emotional abuse, while only 7.9% identified other forms of abuse.
Asked about how they perceived their lives on the street, 28.5% of the street children felt hopeless and helpless; they mentioned that they had no other option concerning what do about their lives except live on the street. Nearly twenty-six percent (25.8%) mentioned that their lives on the streets were tough, 20.8% felt fatalistic and mentioned that their lives were bleak and without a future, 11.3% said that their lives on the streets are temporary and 10.3% mentioned that they enjoyed living on the streets. The majority of children in all three categories felt that
their lives were tough and that they had no future.
Street children cited a number of reasons for being on the streets. These include earning income, being orphaned, abuse by stepfathers/stepmothers/some relatives, inadequate care and support by parents or guardians and peer pressure. The study revealed that the majority (35.3%) of the street children gave earning income for their families as their main reason for being on the streets (Table 16). Just over thirty percent (30.7%) said they were orphans and did not have care-givers while 18.3% said they were abused by parent(s), 7.3% were employed to work on the streets and 6.4% had committed a misdemeanour and had run away from home.
Interviews with street child-care workers revealed that all programmes for street children, be they government run or supported by NGOs, lack adequate funding and skilled personnel and suffer problems with co-ordination between similar organisations.
Government's traditional practice has been to round up the street children and confine them along with non-street abandoned children, delinquents, stray children and other children in need of care, in government residential facilities of remand, training centres, probation and children's homes. In some cases, street children become children in need of care in these institutions. Child-care workers and street children spoke of the harsh conditions at some of the government training and remand centres. While a number of government training centres have tried to be responsive to the rights of street children, most have cited financial and human resources as inadequate to fully meet the challenge of providing for these children.
There is need for co-ordination of responses to street childrens' rights. Many of the organisations working in the area of street children have been in existence for a couple of years. In the long-term, it could be beneficial for these to have a capacity assessment in order for intervening around NGO, CBO or organisational capacity building.
There is need to conduct a best practices survey or study of responses to street children and to share this with all stakeholders. There is need for research to be conducted to fill the information gap on the effects of street environments on child development.
The Government of Zimbabwe needs to seriously consider re-deploying its welfare departments into development departments. This would mean that the Departments of Child Welfare and Social Welfare would focus more on child and social development. The fact that it is much more expensive to "cure" than to "prevent" cannot be overstated.
Community mobilisation should be a priority in ensuring duty-bearers are "keeping their promise" to children of Zimbabwe, including street children.
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Child Protection - Street Children