The Committee on the Removal of Street Children says it needs about K840 million to be spread equally across the country’s four city councils to execute the exercise.
In an interview last week, committee chairperson McBain Mkandawire, who is also Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) executive director, said the funds will be used for the street children’s upkeep such as food, utilities and toiletries.
Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare spokesperson Lucy Bandazi has since said the ministry’s five-year plan on the issue involves billions of kwacha, adding the money was budgeted for. She could, however, not state a specific figure when asked.
But Mkandawire cast doubt on the availability of the money, saying the issue is complex and needs concerted efforts to succeed.
He said: “This is a complex issue because when these children are removed from the streets, some return after sometime while some even join some gangs. So, the approach has to be different on how the children must be removed to ensure they don’t return.”
Mkandawire said the committee’s suggestion include what he described as a “befriending approach” towards the street children or use of enforcement agencies like the police.
On her part, Bandazi said to ensure that street children do not return to the streets, they will be taken through a reformation process.
She said: “The approach is that the children will not be immediately integrated with their families. It needs to be understood that living in the streets is a behavioural issue and a lot of factors lead children to be in the streets.
“In order to survive, children need to develop certain behaviours because as we all know, life in the streets is tough. So the ministry will ensure that before being taken back to their homes, they have reformed from such behaviours.”
Bandazi said the ministry decided to remove the street children as per its mandate according to the Child Care and Justice Act.
Among others, Section 23 of the Child Care and Justice Act, states that children in the streets are also in need of care.
She said each of the four city councils of Blantyre, Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Zomba has identified two holding facilities to be used as rehabilitation sites where the street children will also be screened for Covid-19, among others.
Last month, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati said street children would be removed from the streets by August 30, but the date was shifted to last Wednesday.
Though the minister claimed that the special ministry committee had all the necessary resources to facilitate the exercise, Mkandawire stated that the exercise failed due to lack of funds.
To date the street children are still roaming freely in the country’s streets.
This is not the first time government has attempted to clear the country’s streets of homeless children and beggars.
In 2015, when Kaliati headed the same ministry, she initiated a similar exercise but the street children, including beggars, soon returned to the streets.
At the time, the district social welfare offices identified homes for the children such as Chisomo Children’s Home and Step Kids Awareness.
A 2017 report on street children showed that Blantyre had the highest population of street children at 1 800, followed by Lilongwe with 1 200 and Mzuzu with 600.
But while there have been reports of street children terrorising people, in 2010 our sister paper Weekend Nation investigation established that they have been prone to sodomy by their fellow street children, prominent people and foreigners.