The government set last Sunday as the deadline for children to vacate the streets, but the problem persists.
The hustle and bustle of street life has become a new normal for some children thriving on alms from passers-by.
Most of them cite poverty and orphanhood as factors that push them into squalid street life despite the national drive to reunite them with their families and next of kin.
For two years, a 10-year-old disguised as Charity has been escorting her blind father to Chilambula Highway in Lilongwe where they beg money from passers-by.
Every morning around 6 am, while her peers are going to school, Charity and her father leave Area 23 Township to beg on the capital city’s main highway named after Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
On a good day, they get almost K3 000 to supplement her mother’s earnings from selling sugarcane.
“Life was better before my father lost sight. He used to do piecework for our survival. Now we survive on alms from the street,” she says.
His father narrates how he found himself in the streets.
He says: “I had sore eyes which did not respond to medical treatment.
“Before I lost sight six years ago, I was a builder. Now I struggle to feed my family and pay monthly housing rentals.”
The 42-year-old finds begging degrading and devastating on her daughter, a Standard Three learner at Tsabango Primary School, who seldom goes to school.
In the capital, children bearing the brunt of street life like Charity flash past.
The Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare has ordered them to vacate the streets by August 30, but this comes as “a big blow” to Charity’s father.
He says the family has to swiftly figure out what to do next as economic hardship deepens.
Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati says time has come for the government and its partners to join hands and remove children from the streets.
“We want to improve the welfare of children currently working or living on the streets. Currently, local councils have developed plans to remove all children from the streets of Malawi to safe homes and rehabilitation centres,” she says.
Kaliati says the recommended centres will equip the children with special skills so that they do not return to the streets where they live rough.
Her ministry is expected to issue a public warning for children to voluntarily withdraw from the streets and those who will defy the notice will be removed.
“I find it disheartening when parents or guardians send, encourage or force children to go on the streets. I warn those involved in this malpractice that they will face the law as stipulated in Child Care, Justice and Protection Act,” she states.
In March 2019, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma ordered Kaliati’s ministry to remove all street children.
The Office of the Ombudsman is expecting to receive a progress report from the ministry in the next two weeks, says Chizuma.
“From the reports we are currently getting from the Ministry, there seems to be some positive developments and commendable political will from the responsible minister, so we are hoping for the best,” she explains.
“My office will see what happens after 30 August which the ministry has set as a deadline for children to vacate the streets.”
Child rights activist Amos Chibwana says although the government and its partners are working together to save the children from the streets, they need to support their families with income generating activities.
The National Plan of Action for Vulnerable Children, which expired in 2019, shows that there are almost 1.8 million vulnerable children and 53 percent of them are girls.
Child and youth advocate Fred Nyondo says parents should take the lead to protect their children from hazards of street life. “Communities should take up the responsibility of cautioning parents who send their children to source funds on the streets. It exposes children to numerous hazards,” he says.