2004 ZIM: Situation Assessment of Children Living and/or Working on the Streets in Harare and Chitungwiza
A significant proportion of children in Zimbabwe live in weakened families and communities where social support is diminishing, impoverishment increasing, and access to health, education and social services are on the decline. Abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), economic exploitation (child labour), orphanhood, street life and institutionalisation are some of the conditions that aptly describe or serve as evidence to the vulnerable state of these children. Generally, the prevailing negative macro-economic environment results in a child unfriendly environment that threatens both the survival and development of children.
As part of the process of developing a comprehensive National Strategy for Children Living and/or Working on the Streets, the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, in collaboration with the Harare Task Force on Children Living and/or Working on the Streets and UNICEF Zimbabwe, undertook a study aimed at compiling a comprehensive information base on the plight of children living and/or working on the streets of Harare and Chitungwiza.
The situation analysis was undertaken in an effort by the various organisations to acquire detailed information about street children, in order to be more effective in the planning and implementation of their programmes. UNICEF provided financial support for the research project. The objectives of the study were:
1) To gather information on the family background of children living and/or working on the streets
2) To provide information as to why children are on the streets
3) To identify the problems faced by children on the streets
4) To formulate and implement appropriate interventions to address the challenges faced by children living and/or working on the streets.
A questionnaire was designed by staff from various NGOs who make up the membership of the Task Force, together with the Department of Social Services. A special team comprising of assigned staff from Just Children Foundation and Streets Ahead were tasked to work with ZNCWC staff in the data collection exercise. Two focus group discussions were held in the city, one at the Presbyterian Children's Club, and the other at the Streets Ahead Sports Club. The city was divided into 4 zones, with each zone assigned a supervisor and research assistants to identify and interview the street children in their zone. Data capture and analysis were performed using SPSS, with consultant assistance from the University of Zimbabwe.
A total of 450 children aged between 0 to 18 years were interviewed for the analysis. Of the 450 children who participated, 427 were interviewed in Harare while 23 were in Chitungwiza. Given that the number of children living and/or working on the streets in Harare is officially estimated at 5,000, the actual number interviewed for this study was clearly under represented.
Findings and Conclusions:
The findings support that children are on the streets due to poverty and broken homes. More male children than females are on the streets, and the highest number of children for both sexes lies within the 14 to 18 age group. A large number of the children (58%) are relatively new on the streets, having been there for less than a year. Fifty-five percent of the children interviewed had no birth certificates. Other key findings are as follows:
- 34% of the children are not full-time on the streets, but rather return home to sleep.
- Child abuse continues to be a major issue concerning street children. Many had been sexually or physically abused at home and on the streets.
- Programmes for street children are best directed at the general public and those charged to enforce the law to address negative attitudes and violent practices against street children.
- Research has demonstrated that no amount of intervention programming designed for street children can be successful unless the community is prepared to respect, protect and provide opportunities to street children. undefined
- A growing disquiet exists over the numbers of children working and living on the streets. These children have been portrayed, especially in the electronic and print media, as little thieves or criminals in the making. Their moral behaviour is seen as different from other children who are not on the streets.
- The study found that street children do not enjoy being on the streets. They believe continued life on the streets presents a bleak outlook, offering no hope for a future. They, in fact, requested assistance to improve their situation. Specifically, they requested government's intervention, believing they have a right to such a demand as they too 'are citizens of this nation.'
- 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.
- The study confirmed that street children continue to be treated negatively by the general public and law enforcement agents. Street children are seen as 'vagrants, 'illegal vendors', 'thugs' or 'truants' by both the law and the public as a whole. Focus group discussions confirmed that many people view street children as irresponsible youth who are criminals in the making.
- Most of the children left home to look for ways to earn an income or because of poverty at home (35%). It is, however, important to understand that poverty is not the main reason why children resort to the streets. Poverty alone will usually not make a child prefer the streets to his/her home. The immediate causes in fact ranged from abuse (sexual or physical), death/abandonment by guardian/parent, to family breakdown.
- It is very difficult to run effective intervention programmes for street children because their problem is a manifestation of profound social and economic situations that do not respond to quick and easy solutions. Programmes that have not considered children's rights, personal needs and freedom of choice in the provision of services, and those that have addressed the symptoms rather than the casual factors have been characterized by failure.
- Failure has also characterized programmes that address street children in isolation, without looking at the wider contexts of family and community.
- Reactions to street children tend to be punitive, and anti-social and delinquent behaviour stemming from poverty and lack of care and support is not considered in its proper social and psychological context. Unfortunately, such has been the attitude adopted by some sections of our society.
Most children indicated that they would like to return to school. Other assistance requested was institutionalisation in a home/group home and capital to start an income-generating project.
- It would appear that a reasonable number of street children are not really homeless and, in fact, do have a place to go. Thirty-nine percent of the children are orphaned. The main reason for their being on the street seems to be poverty at home. It also appears that a considerable number of the children on the streets are there with the blessings of their parents. They actually stay at home and come to town on a daily basis to beg, returning home to remit their daily earnings to their parents, thereby actively contributing to the family's upkeep.
Programmes need to focus on family tracing and re-unification since street children, as with all other children in especially difficult circumstances, need to be cared for within the context of their families and culture. Strategies for intervention need to consider ways of strengthening families' responsibility for their children. Children should only be placed in homes or foster placements as a last resort.
It is important to be aware of the number of organizations giving assistance to children on the streets, and their efforts in networking and coordinating their activities is highly commendable. However, a lot still needs to be done in order for their efforts to become more meaningful.
Recent developments on the problem of street children indicate the need for the Department of Social Services, the Local Authorities and indeed all the other stakeholders involved in working with street children to redouble their efforts in managing this volatile challenge. All stakeholders, including children, are called upon to be responsible and cooperate in the implementation of programmes to find solutions for children on and of the street.
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