By Prince Bill M. Kaping’a Political/Social Analyst
In our previous write-up, we took time to identify and categorize those society has labeled as street kids. We also labored to look at when these unfortunate children started appearing on our streets and went on to interrogate various interventions previous regimes have experimented with in trying to find tangible solutions to the same. Our humble conclusion was of course that nothing much seemed to have changed..…the situation keeps deteriorating by the day.
In this offering, we shall endeavour to propose possible practical solutions the new administration might as well contemplate considering. Handing-out food or a few coins to street kids occasionally whilst they remain on the streets is as good as what Prof. Chinsembu may refer to as applying Vaseline on a festering wound!
It’s high time we started considering practical interventions such as equipping street kids with practical skills such as metal fabrication, welding, carpentry, bricklaying, mechanics, panel beating, general agriculture and tailoring and design, of course coupled with entrepreneurship. This way, they would be better positioned to secure employment or better still, start their own backyard businesses.
It would obviously be illogical to expect government to address the problem of street kids single handedly – it calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders. In this regard, we wish to reiterate our earnest appeal to the new deal administration to consider calling for a NATIONAL INDABA ON STREET KIDS. This should of course be preceded by provincial indabas which would finally culminate into the mother of all indabas!
The following is a suggestion of would-be participants: the church, senior citizens, relevant government departments, and donor community, House of chiefs, Zambia National Service, Zambia Police, media fraternity, corporate world, civil society and all registered political parties.
3.1 The church
In Biblical times, a man who was lame from birth was being taken to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was laid every day to ask for alms from those going into the temple courts (Acts 3:2).
The church must be encouraged to consider ‘opening their doors wider to potential street kids in the community! While we appreciate the role the church already plays in meeting the spiritual needs of our people, it’s equally important to take a step further and start ‘nourishing’ the physical needs of orphans and vulnerable children as well. This can best be achieved by offering literacy lessons and skills training. Snacks can also be provided as an incentive. We already have several churches in our communities; imagine the impact this would have on the plight of street kids if every church was involved?
3.2 Senior citizens
A while back, we used to have a strong family extended system, but nowadays it seems it’s a couple for their immediate family, and God for the rest of the family. Senior citizens must lead the way in helping the nation restore her rich traditional values and culture.
3.3 Zambia National Service (ZNS)
In the past, street kids were taken to ZNS training facilities for rehabilitation although many of them ended up running away due to abuse at the hands of the instructors. We would like to remind ZNS that these are not individuals trying to pursue a career in military circles, but rather individuals desperate to find footing in life. If ZNS is to continue being involved in the rehabilitation of street kids in the foreseeable future, the instructors must be made to discard their military fatigues and shiny boots for the much casual outfits. This will make street kids view them not as their tormentors but as their father figures!
3.4 Ministry of education
Some children end up on the streets after dropping out of schools, colleges or universities for failure to meet certain requirements and conditions. Learning institutions must come up with a deliberate policy of reserving a certain percentage of enrolments for orphans and vulnerable children, unconditionally.
Having stayed long on the streets, street kids may not be keen to sit in class the whole day. Government must equally consider developing a curriculum focusing on vocational education. This differs from traditional education in that it focuses on building the specific skills of an individual for specific trades. It engages individuals in the learning of practical skills for different occupational activities. Once equipped with vocational skills, street kids would be accorded diverse job opportunities or the possibility to engage in self-employment.
3.5 Corporate sector
Most of the street kids that have undergone training have been denied employment due to stigma or lack of work experience. As part of their corporate social responsibility, businesses should consider ‘absorbing’ street kids under their wings as apprentices or better still…….offering them employment.
It is morally wrong for the media to ‘sugarcoat’ the bitter reality of the problem of street kids to appease those in authority when reporting about the same. It is understandable newspapers have to carry sensational headlines, mainly of a political nature, to sale their newspapers but wait a minute………the media also has inalienable duty to educate and inform the nation about the prevailing state of affairs accurately without fear or favour.
3.7 Opposition political parties
There comes a time when politicians must bury their acrimony and animosity and work together for the good of the nation. Yes…..a party in power may not have all the solutions to problems besetting the nation and the opposition may just be ‘sitting’ on solutions that have eluded the nation this long. However, a party in power may only be receptive if opposition political parties can tone down and be less confrontational when trying to come up with lasting solutions to the problem of street kids.
3.8 Ministry of Community Development & Social Welfare
Most countries are doing away with the ‘institutionalized’ way of looking after orphans and vulnerable children and gravitating towards foster care. Children are better off in a family set up than in hostels! The department of social welfare must therefore initiate a campaign to encourage those with capacity to consider foster care. This is very common in South Africa and Lesotho is slowly following in the footsteps.
3.9 Ministry of Home Affairs
Whenever street kids commit misdemeanors, police have a tendency to detain them in the same cells as hardcore criminals. This way, they are bound to easily get indoctrinated and look forward to joining bandits once they are released from custody. Special cells ought to be created to cater for young offenders.
Equally, those that are handed-down custodial sentences by the courts mustn’t be mixed with other convicts as they are likely to come under negative influence and equally graduate into hardcore criminals themselves.
3.10 Ministry of Justice
Those tasked with the responsibility of dispensing justice in our country shouldn’t just be quick to send street kids to jail whenever they are brought before them. There may be a history of extenuating factors forcing them to commit such crimes. Judges are therefore expected to exercise utmost lenience and tolerance whenever dealing with children with a history of growing up on the streets.
3.11 Their Worship the Mayors
As city fathers, mayors must play an active role in providing comfort to street kids. For instance, not so long ago, the mayor of the city of Kitwe was instrumental in relocating street kids from the streets of Kitwe to some safe homes. He personally lobbied well-wishers to come on board and provide both material and financial support. However, street kids are still ubiquitous on streets of Kitwe not because the mayor has failed but due to lack of a coordinated response. Street kids have a habit of migrating from one town to another for the proverbial ‘greener pastures’ in more affluent towns. It’s therefore possible that while the mayor and his team were trying hard to rescue the street kids, many more were being offloaded onto the streets of Kitwe from other towns such as Mansa, Mufulira and Chingola.
A number of non-governmental organizations across the nation have been running homes and orphanages for ages. The nation deserves to hear their stories – what have been their successes and/or failures? What challenges have they faced along the way? How can their programmes be made better?
3.13 The donor community
There’s this distorted perception that street kids are only found in Lusaka….NO! This is a national problem. Go to the streets of Solwezi, Chingola, Mufulira, Kitwe, Ndola, Kabwe and Livingstone; you will find them loitering the streets. Donors are therefore encouraged to take a keen interest in projects outside the capital city. They will find them overwhelmed with similar challenges.