It has been observed that removal of children from the streets has yielded nothing as they usually return to the streets within short periods of time. There are home-based and homeless children living on the street.
Research findings from Chisomo Children’s Club indicate that 65 percent of these children are home-based.
History has shown that whenever the children are removed from the streets, they are either taken back to their parents or guardians, placed under non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or reformatory centres.
The government had tried to introduce cash transfer programme to assist such children but to no avail. NGOs have tried to accommodate these children but still we see them on the streets. Enforcement of the law, banning giving alms to these children has also failed.
My stand is that there is no programme designed for children living on the streets that can succeed unless parents, guardians, communities and faith organisations are prepared to provide adequate care and support to them. We all need to respect the rights of children living on the streets, and also providing accommodation, nutrition, education, medical care and dressing opportunities to them, among others.
As can be seen above, majority of these children live with their families but a significant minority are really homeless. Some factors that have contributed to this problem include escalating poverty, deaths of parents, high rate of divorces, urban migration.
This has resulted into poor physical and mental health, engagement into high risk behaviours and also failing to access education.
Child related laws provide for imprisonment of parents and guardians who unlawfully and willingly fail to provide necessities to their children. The law further empowers child justice courts to remove children from undesirable surroundings and place them where they can be provided with nutrition and education.
In addition, the law established reformatory centres and foster homes. Reformatory centres are designed for delinquent children in need of reformation, whereas foster homes are designed for victimised children in need of special care and protection. Malawi has two reformatory centres but I doubt if there are designated foster homes for victimised children.
My observation from experience is that we are putting more focus on delinquent children than innocent victimised children. Unlike delinquent children, some of these victimised children do not access child justice courts, especially when they are abused by adults.
Courts and police have failed to prosecute and punish families that send children on the street, not that they are not willing, but that they put the welfare of children (at heart) in terms of who will care and protect them during the period their families are serving jail terms.
I would like to suggest to the Malawi Government to consider designating foster homes. I would further want to propose to government to consider establishment of child care and protection hostels with full primary schools for these vulnerable children. Such hostels can be run like a home where matrons and social workers can be providing parental love to the children.
If this can be bought by the government, the justice delivery system will be able to imprison families that send children on the streets, therefore make an order of placing the children in either a foster home or to the child care and protection centre.
There is need to engage child rights partners who donate to child rights organisations so that they can assist in the area of construction of such centres and then donate them to government. Malawi has citizens who are very rich. These groups of people can also construct the said centres and donate them to the government.
It is high time Malawi rose for the care and protection of a street child. We all need to stand for the welfare and best interests of children living on the streets. n