Missing child finds his way home in Mozambique

At Carlitos' house, the women dance and rejoice as their tears flow. Carlitos had been missing for a month.

Claudio Fauvrelle
O regresso de Carlitos a casa em Moçambique
UNICEF Moçambique/2011/Mark Lehn
07 January 2013

Maputo, Moçambique - At Carlitos' house, the women dance and rejoice as their tears flow. The dinner table is piled with chicken, potatoes, salad, and cool drinks, in humble gratitude to those who helped find the 10-year old child. Carlitos had been missing for a month.

"No words," says the neighbour who joined the family in welcoming Carlitos and the team who brought him home, a specialized unit brought together by social services, Children's Court, the Attorney General's Office and the National Institute of Social Action. 

Everyone is here to celebrate Carlitos' return, and in the middle of the commotion, Carlitos looks surprised, and speaks little. His 2-year old cousin Xiluva refuses to leave his lap. The adults are busy going over the family reunification forms. Carlitos has been living with his aunt's family since he was 2, and now finally, to mark the return from his fateful disappearance, the Attorney General's Office initiates onsite the process to make his aunt his legal guardian. 

It was a Sunday morning, while he was on his way to his grandmother's house in another part of town that Carlitos, a fourth-grader, went missing. 

"We looked for him in residential areas, hospitals, in all police stations, everywhere," said the uncle, visibly relieved to have his nephew back.

Luckily for Carlitos, it turns out he was not on the street for too long, as he was immediately found by the police and taken to an orphanage that hosts abandoned and lost children, the only public institution of its kind in Maputo. The green building on Eduardo Mondlane Avenue hosts around 50 children, though the number varies constantly since the objective is to reunite children with their families as quickly as possible. From there, he was sent to an old peoples' home. 

"We know that children and adults should be handled separately, but currently we have no alternative," explains Antonieta Niquice, from the Directorate of Women and Social Action. "The state orphanage is overcrowded. We need another space for children older than 10." 

Here, the process of identifying and locating his family began. Often, lost children don't know their home address, or simply refuse to provide it. This is common if the child is being mistreated or neglected at home, or lives in extreme poverty. Usually they prefer to be taken to an orphanage or other institution, where they are given food, clothes, a bed, and a protective environment. 

For Carlitos, the solution came from an important, if surprising, place: a TV program. Television has become an important ally of authorities dealing with missing children. The TV show that helped save Carlitos, Balanço Geral, broadcasts information about missing children, including photos and contact numbers to their families. The social welfare office often crosschecks its data on lost children with the TV program's. And sometimes the story has a happy ending.

Back at the house, Carlitos is in the loving embrace of his overjoyed family, neighbours and community. In total, he was away for about a month. They were four weeks of terrible uncertainty, hopelessness and grief. In the end, thanks to the prompt and coordinated efforts of several instances and individuals working together, Carlitos finally found his way home.