Under the moonlight, with no proper cover against the harsh weather conditions, the babies smile and make inaudible noises from the back of their mothers, oblivious of their plight and how they came to be found here.
They know of no other home. They were born here and are being raised here, in the streets of the capital, Lilongwe.
As if living in the street is not harrowing enough, they will also never live to enjoy the warm and lovely embrace of their fathers, nor know them. Their young mothers—some as young as 12—became pregnant after being defiled, raped, some gang raped right in the streets.
This is the fate of scores of babies born to young mothers who roam the country’s city streets in search of food during the day and shelter at night.
In July last year, Weekend Nation reported that over 30 young street girls were being defiled or raped in Blantyre and Lilongwe every month in return for food and shelter, according to organisations that work with children who live in the streets.
At the time, we reported that a total of 32 young girls were defiled or raped in June alone 2018 in the two cities—Lilongwe and Blantyre—according to the organisations—Tikondane Care for Children Centre, Step up Kids Awareness and government’s Victims Support Units.
Nine months later, we can reveal the situation is worse despite the organisations’ interventions.
On Wednesday evening, Weekend Nation visited the streets of Lilongwe and witnessed how girls are struggling to make ends meet not only for themselves but increasingly, for their young kids as well.
Several of the girls, whom we estimated to be between 12 and 16 years old, their scantily dressed babies clutched on their backs, were asking for money from passers-by.
Many of the girls felt uncomfortable to talk to us about their harrowing stories and about how they are increasingly falling victim to sexual and other crimes on the street and who the fathers of their children were unless we promised to give them alms.
But a 15-year-old girl and mother of a year-old son opened up, narrating how she became a mother.
“I was gang-raped, and so I do not know the father of my child. One night I was sleeping in the Mosque [area]. Five boys came and hauled me down towards the bridge [on Lilongwe River]. They raped me. I realised after one month that I had missed my period. That is how I became pregnant.
“I and my friends tried with police officers to search for the assailants but we did not find them. I have given up on searching for those who did this to me. And now I am just raising my child,” the girl, who said originally comes from Mponela, said in an interview in Bwalolanjobvu.
Statistics from Area 3 police Victim Support Unit (VSU) in Lilongwe shows that 36 girls aged 15 and below were defiled between October 2018 and February 2019.
The girl from Mponela, who said she is found in the streets after her biological mother
nor write, but counts money very well.abandoned her, can neither read
“It’s a struggle to make ends meet on the street and now raising a baby is hell,” she said.
The young mother, who said she delivered her baby at Bwaila Hospital in the city, never has enough clothes to keep her baby warm, especially when it is cold and raining, adding that at one point the baby had a bad flu and cough.
She explained that she is still breastfeeding her child and gives him whatever food she finds. When she has no food, they both sleep on empty stomachs.
Spokesperson for Lilongwe district health office Richard Mvula, in an interview, confirmed that some under aged girls give birth at Bwaila Hospital but could not exactly say if some of the girls live in the streets.
But Mvula confirmed that some young mothers attend antenatal clinics and their babies are immunised against diseases as expected.
“But the street is not a good environment to raise a baby. Most likely the babies are malnourished and suffer from stunted growth. The babies are also prone to diarrhea and other waterborne diseases,” he said.
Mvula, who is also senior health promotion officer, pointed out that the survival rate the young mothers and their babies is always low due to complications when giving birth and inadequate care.
Bridget Chetama, a social work coordinator at Tikondane Care for Children Centre said her organisation rescued 37 girls from Lilongwe between October last year and February this year.
Of the 37 girls, one now has a baby boy—three-months old; five are pregnant while 15 had been treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But according to her, some of them went back to the street.Statistics from Area 3 police
Lilongwe show that 36 girls, aged 15 and below, were defiled between October 2018 and February 2019. Victim Support Unit (VSU) in
According to the child protection officer at Area 3 police, William Chirambo, most street kids end up in prisons, especially when they are above 18 years, because they indulge in criminal activities.
He said majority of street kids are school dropouts who do not know how to read and write, but easily master the skill of counting money.
A few, Chirambo said, attend primary school, especially those receiving care and support from social rehabilitation centres, but a good number of them drop out along the way.
He also observed that there is a group of street kids who operate from homes—attend school in the morning and go begging for alms in town in the afternoon.
Said Chirambo: “More girls than boys try to attend school but once the girls come of age, they resort to prostitution to make ends meet.”
Director of Child Affairs in the ministry of Gender McKnight Kalanda, in an interview, observed that there is a national strategy to look into issues of street kids, but was quick to add that implementation has been a challenge.