For eight years, a teenager has been missing in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nyambi, Machinga District.
The adolescent boy was uprooted from Mbalwe Village to the Northern Region in 2009 by his mother who worked in various tobacco estates in Rumphi and Mzimba.
This is the heart-breaking story of Innocent Issa Kamenya, 18, who has been left destitute in Karonga where he sells eggs in a desperate search for transport to reunite with his relatives in Machinga.
The boy was only 10 years old when her mother travelled almost 700 kilometres.
In the district on the northern shores of Lake Malawi, Innocent is often hired by wealth businesspeople and the working class to vend boiled eggs.
This is all he does for survival—a hand-to-mouth routine—having dropped out of school in Standard Seven.
“I have been fooled by almost 20 employers. I have wasted my life, but I do this for my daily food,” says the boy who started off as a housekeeper.
He has gone through harsh situations. His wrinkled face says it all. He looks weary and drained. His clothes are mostly oily and soiled. He often goes to bed hungry.
“If I earn too little, I endure severe beatings at the hands of my bosses. At worst, they force me to sleep in the open all night. I always have to be on my toes to make enough money,” he unpacks his dilemma amid sobs.
The beatings forced Innocent to quit the job.
Sick and tired of this, he gulps cheap distills widespread in the border district to “kill frustrations”.
He was high on spirits the night we met at his grass-thatched home.
It is a leaky hut which costs him K2 000 a month.
“I’m soaking my troubles,” he says, taking a tot. “The world is cruel. My life has been full of frustrations. I do not dream of anything in this world. I’m nobody,” he says.
He sounds pessimistic if not suicidal.
He remembers being in the company of his six siblings when their mother took them from Machinga to the North where she worked in slavish conditions in tobacco estates.
In 2009, she vanished from an estate in Kacheche near Bwengu in Mzimba North.
That was the last time Innocent saw her.
He has grown up with nobody to take care of him.
“My mother left me in the hands of my uncle in Rumphi because her meager earnings were not enough for basic needs. Unfortunately, it took just a year before my uncle started mistreating me. I run away, walking all the way to Karonga in search of work,” explains the boy.
He last saw his father around 2006 when his parents divorced. Their whereabouts remain unknown.
He cannot trace his uncle either.
In his seclusion, he wishes he was home, back in school and getting skills for a second chance in life.
The Child Care, Protection and Justice Act requires parents to take care of their children and ensure they have necessary requirements.
The misery of the boy, who quit school to fend for himself, contravenes the childcare law.
Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC) executive director Emma Kaliya urges child rights institutions to quickly come to the rescue of the boy as his hardship is getting out of hand.
“There is need for government to rescue the boy from the hardship and reunite him with his relatives,” the rights activist says.
But there are numerous young boys and girls in Karonga and beyond who are living in squalid conditions with no future to hope for.
In Karonga, the children escaping poverty, hunger and other unlivable conditions in the tobacco fields of Rumphi and Mzimba abound.
They flee their parents’ homes in search of better livelihood in the buzzing shoreline town, but often plunge into worse conditions.
Under-age girls increasingly venture into selling plastic bags and sex work, which exposes them to HIV infections.
The boys sell meat, eggs, fritters and almost anything they are hired to vend.
Others are hired by vendors and members of the working class to work as bicycle taxi operators for as low as K500 a day.
Assistant district social welfare officer Atupele Mwalweni says last year alone, the office recorded over 10 girls who were recruited for jobs not suitable for them.
But the social welfare office is reportedly too financially constrained to follow up on the cases and rescue the children in agony.
“Ferrying destitute children to their respective homes requires a lot of resources. As of now, we do not have transport,” says Mwalweni
But Chawanangwa Mzembe, the acting zone coordinator for CCAP Livingstonia Synod Aids Programme (Lisap), urges government and its partners to act now.
He warns: “Unless stakeholders take measures to save the children, the destitute boys and girls are at high risk of premature sexual activities likely to expose them to HIV and Aids.” n