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Monday, November 22, 2021

Part I : Indaba on Street Kids a Must

Columns Part I : Indaba on Street Kids a Must

By Prince Bill M. Kaping’a Political/Social Analyst

You’ll often see them draped in scruffy clothing, usually spotting unkempt hair. They tend to sleep in drainages…tunnels if you like. Many at times…… they’ve to go days on end on empty stomachs. And yet, when they chance a rare opportunity to lay their hands on what they may refer to as food, they usually have to help themselves from rubbish bins……nay, dumpsites!

Given the circumstances, they’re forced to inhale copious amounts of glue or genkem, as they prefer to call it, to hide their shame or indeed keep warm at night. But who are they?

They’re commonly known as STREET KIDS!

By standard definition, a street child is basically a poor or homeless child who lives on the streets of a city, town or village. Make no mistake, there are two types of street kids: children on the streets and children of the streets.

Children on the streets: These may have a home and even one or two surviving parents. Most likely, their parents can’t afford to put bread and butter on the table for them. As a result of this, they are compelled or even encouraged to take a long walk to the city to ask for alms from some good Samaritans or undertake odd jobs such as hauling goods on their backs and/or cleaning cars. Once they manage to pocket one or two coins, you’ll see them proudly walking back home in high spirits rest assured that they won’t go to bed hungry that night.

Children of the streets: Having lost both parents, mainly due to HIV/AIDS or……. probably ran away from the custody of their relatives due to mental and physical abuse, they’ve cut off ties with their relatives. Obviously feeling neglected by society, they consider themselves as having nowhere else to run to, hence a grueling life on the streets begins. Quite understandably, children of the streets tend to sniff copious amounts of glue to keep warm at night; they actually euphemistically refer to glue as a blanket! Sadly, there’s no law in the country incriminating the use of genkem or ifinyelele.

History of street kids in Zambia

Our country started experiencing a surge in the influx of street kids early 1990s when the Frederick Chiluba led Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) dramatically dislodged the post-independence ruling party, United National Independence Party (UNIP) from power in a scintillating and gripping contest that would leave our founding father Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda dumbfounded!

Following mounting pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions, former trade unionist turned politician Dr. Chiluba would embark on an ambitious structural adjustment programme (SAP) to try and resuscitate the ailing economy. This would see a number of state-owned enterprises and the mines switch to private hands whilst those with a less impressive balance sheet would simply fold up.

As predicted by skeptics and naysayers; things would somehow go haywire in a matter of time! A good number of people in the city would lose employment in the process, dispatching many of them to the grave prematurely, due to depression. Robbed of sole bread winners in the family, many households in urban set ups would be struck with severe hunger and poverty. In the fullness of time, children from such dwellings would start flocking to the central business districts for survival…and these children would come to be known as street kids.

As a stroke of misfortune would have it though, a new pandemic would equally be wreaking havoc in our communities. As scientists and researchers raced against time to find a cure, many more people of productive age would succumb to HIV/AIDS leaving behind scores of children as double or single orphans.

Faced with uncertainty as to whence their next meal would come from, a second wave of street kids would hit the streets! Hundreds of these fatherless kids would storm the streets and position themselves in strategic places hoping some good Samaritans would feel pity and splurge loose coins on them.

In what may be perceived as ambivalence or simply lack of a master plan to unravel the conundrum, the Chiluba administration would watch from the terraces as the army of street kids swelled-up in the cities!

A flicker of hope would only be ignited once Chiluba reluctantly passes on the baton to Levy Mwanawasa after a botched third term attempt. Mwanawasa would immediately introduce a robust street kids’ rehabilitation programme under the auspices of the Zambia National Service (ZNS). But lo and behold……he would pass on before the initiative could even take root and start bearing fruits.

When Mwanawasa’s vice president Rupiah Bwezani Banda finally takes over as President of course after fending-off stiff competition from the opposition, many street kids’ practitioners would be confident that the new administration would continue on the same trajectory and probably inject some new reforms, especially the manner ZNS officers tended to treat street kids.

Why do we say so?

Street kids often cited abuse and ill-treatment at the hands of tough talking military instructors who treated them just like any other recruit! For example, street kids always complained of being flogged-out of bed at 5 AM to go jogging, being screamed at incessantly for no apparent reason and severely punished on flimsy grounds etc.

Given the above, our organization resolved to write the Republican President, proposing that government should consider calling for a national indaba on street kids.

It was envisaged that the indaba would come up with a coherent policy on street kids to help figure-out lasting solutions to the problem of street kids once and for all. But to our utter shock and dismay, we would get an absolutely outlandish response from the Ministry of Social Welfare and Development at the time.

“Thank you very much for your proposal for government to call for a national indaba on street kids. If your organization is in a position to sponsor the same, we would be more than happy to collaborate with you in this venture,” read the letter in part.

Honestly speaking…..how can a reasonable and responsible government expect a simple local NGO to sponsor an event of such magnitude as a national indaba?

To date, the plight of street kids remains the same, if not worse!

Not so long ago, the previous Edgar Lungu regime was rattled when young people took to social media to complain about rampant corruption in government and lack of job opportunities in the country.

Truth be told, street kids actually pose a far greater danger to national security than any other grouping. What we are sitting on is a volcano! As street kids continue enduring pain and suffering on the streets while society looks the other way, they are gradually getting embittered and tempered, systematically. And as age catches up with them, they’d surely start organizing themselves into gangs……this is when the volcano shall surely erupt! And when this happens, they’re going to reign terror never witnessed before in the history of this nation as they go on rampage unleashing a myriad of spine-chilling crimes.

Let’s take a few examples into perspective. On the Copperbelt province for instance, we had or still have remnants of violent gangs such as the Tokotas, Mbwambwambwas, Sons of the devil, Malinsos etc; where do such cliques emanate from? What about those individuals constantly harassing the traveling public at the intercity bus terminals in Lusaka; what does their conduct and character speak of? They totally have no culture or regard for anyone at all! The case is even worse for the so called Jerabos on the Copperbelt.

Would we rather fold our arms and wait for things to spiral out of control, irretrievably?

In part 2, we tackle the way forward.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Wht does joblessness mean in an urban setting? It means u can’t rent a house, u can’t provide for your family and both those situations mean u become homeless and go hungry. U therefore lose the power to hold your family together. They then go wherever they can find food or shelter, however temporary. Lastly, the ” indaba” will achieve nothing, I repeat, nothing.

  2. It was HIV/ AIDS colliding with the disaster of freemarket economy/ Structural Adjustment Policies of the disaster Chiluba administration that led to this disaster we are in regarding Street Kids. Add to this loss of the traditional African family structure where extended families existed and helped one another and finally mix in a new religion aptly named the gospel of prosperity where the teaching is God will make you rich. It’s all about you. Whereas Jesus helped people and fed the hungry, today’s pastors are all about getting rich. How many churches are out there feeding these kids? When we follow the way of Jesus we’ll do a lot to help.

  3. The author should include those who are on the streets not because of poverty but because a parent ( father) has remarried and the new spouse has put a condition that makes it difficult for the children to stay in their home. This brings me to the extended family of old where relatives were ready to absorb in their homes children of their late relatives. Now a days people have become more European in their family contents…. father, mother and biological children that’s all…no nephews or nieces. By the way in our culture a son of a man’s brother is not a nephew but a son… this is no longer so.

  4. Those old enough will remember those centers where disabled people were kept so that as a group they would make things like baskets etc for sale to the public. After 1992 I understand funding to these centers was stopped therefore unleashing the residents on to the streets with their children. So there so many reasons to this problem of street children.

  5. WE ALL KNOW THE PROBLEM and we also know the solution Prince. Zambia is not alone in the world and this problem is not unique to Zambia. The largest number of street kids in the world are in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. You are right about the volcano but the greatest threat is militant Islamists. These street kids are a potential recruitment ground for madrassas. The Islamists have a lot of money and will take these children and radicalise them, arm them and ere long there will be suicide bombers in our cities. Government MUST take this threat seriously.

  6. Thanks everyone for your insightful contributions…..some of the suggestions you make are included in Part 2. As for those saying it’s a sheer waste of time and resources, What would you rather we do instead? Wait on Christ to come? Your counter proposals would be highly appreciated.

  7. Fix the ailing economy…a rising tide lifts all boats and then some social protections of Denmark,Norway type plus retaining our good old African extended family cultural norms.This problem will require a combination of remedies.

  8. Something surely needs to be done, but I am scared sh!tless of CORRUPTION. Guarantee that provisions can be handled without money disappearing, and things will start happening. Any people with PF background to be removed!

  9. This is a very difficult situation. First we should work to strengthen the struggling families to stop further deployment of kids on the streets. We should document current street kids and manage them based on age. Young ones should be helped quickly by sending them to Orphanages that can be set up and handed over to church organizations with proven work in this area. The older ones can be integrated into youth programs including revisiting the ZNS strategy. Let us help our children on the streets. Some are our own kids that we rejected before they were born.

  10. The Govt was right to respond in that manner because it’s not necessary to have a national indaba to discuss a known problem. Further your data is outdated. The crop of street kids of 1993 left streets long ago because they can’t be of the same age after almost 3 decades. HIV is no longer a death penalty, thanks to ARVs. The reasons some kids are on the streets now are different to those of 1993. Current studies have revealed that many have come from stable homes but want to be on the streets because of the desire to be prematurely independent. There are many parents and guardians that want them back home. The concept now isn’t to run orphanages but to integrate them into families. SOS has even closed some centres. Many NGOs made a lot money as they pretended to look after so called…

  11. Its really easy …Stop having kids if you can’t educate and adequately provide for them.Street kids PROBLEM SOLVED.

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