We Belong To each Other

Street Children: A Revelation of Our Society's Soul

The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are a testimony to the unjust and inhuman policies of the Zambian government.

“The memories of the times I spent in the streets still haunts me. The long interminable nights in the cold, exposed to all kind of dangers, the constant hunger. Had I not found refuge at Mthunzi I think that by now I would have become a hardened criminal or would be dead”, says Moses Chimwanga, now a 22 years old young man about to graduate in business management.

The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children. When you walk around Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, you will not fail to see many children in the street. They are dressed in rags, emaciated, scavenging for food in the rubbish bins. They stop cars and beg for money. Their faces show strain and sadness, others appear hungry and suffering from ill health and malnutrition. And at night, you can see these unhappy street children sleeping along street corners, in shops' doorways and in any dry isolated place. You cannot fail to be moved, and you wander in which kind of society we live.

The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are a testimony to the unjust and inhuman policies of the Zambian government. Politicians every day boast about their economic and development achievements, but they don't tell us who benefits from such achievements. Are politicians and important businessmen the only beneficiaries? Is the life of the poor and marginalized also improving? Why are the street children always increasing in numbers? What about the youth empowerment fund?

The reward of development and economic progress of the country should be able to find ways to give better opportunities to the children who are in the streets. Whenever economic progress and development takes place the children must no longer be threatened with the scourge of hunger, destitution and hopelessness. Children are the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures in any African traditional society. But today, our children are increasingly being forced onto the streets by poverty, abuse, abandonment and being orphaned by HIV/ AIDS.

The government and the community are failing to find concrete solution on how the children in the street can be aided. Street children are like a long time bomb which if allowed growing can explode and have a telling effect on the security and economy of our country.

Violence and economic hardships and part of the tragedy of street children are the ways our government has abandoned them to their destiny. Only a few religious organizations have setup their own projects such as the Mthunzi, Fountain of Hope, Mapode, Messiah Ministries, Kakabalika and so on, with a vision of improving the lives of these uncared children and make of them decent good responsible citizen of our society. These organizations know that street children do not only constitute a danger for people going about their business, but also they also fall prey to many physical and moral perils as they grow older. They are often condemned spending the rest of their lives excluded from normal society.

Traditionally, a child in an African society was a member of the wider community and could not be separated from it. This meant that even the entitlement that a child deserved was a community matter. It was the responsibility of each individual member of the traditional society to oversee and educate all children; children had no need to fend for themselves. They were loved and cared for by the whole society, while at present only few soft-hearted religious people will throw a few kwachas to these miserable children and move on. There is no community pressure that is being applied to force government to take action and to find a lasting solution, and there is no solutions proposed by the different communities or neighborhood where these children are most often found. What the owner of the shops does, where street children hang around is simply call the police or have them beaten up.

Moses Chimwanga says: “It is a shame that the actions to rescue street children from a life of misery o possibly crime, are mainly done by foreigners and foreign organizations. In my case I was helped by Fr. Kizito, the founder of Mthunzi center, who has helped also hundreds of other unfortunate children. Where are the Zambian organizations?”
A question that we must increasingly ask ourselves is: how long must it take before the problem of street children attracts the strong attention it deserves? How many more children should die in our streets because of lack of care before we can acknowledge that the problem of street children is a very serious one that is likely to affect all of us?

The likely answer, judging from the actions of the previous Zambian governments, is that the problem of street children has to grow to huge size before it gets the attention it deserves. There need to be a firm commitment by all concerned parties to tackle the problem and not just ignore it, hoping that it will go away or that other people are going to come to solve the problem for us’.

By Mike Mwenda

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