Police have in the past two months arrested 285 street children for attacking unsuspecting people in cities, with five arrested on suspicion of murder, Nation on Sunday has established.
Southern Region Police Headquarters deputy spokesperson Edith Kachotsa in an interview confirmed that Limbe Police arrested five street children, two of them aged 17 and the others below 17, on suspicion that they murdered a man late last month.
She said between July and August this year, police in the South have arrested 285 street children on different charges that include causing grievous harm to individuals and robberies.
Said Kachotsa: “For a long time, street kids have been attacking people across the country, especially in cities. And for some time now, there has been talk of removing the children from the streets but it seems when they are taken off the streets, the children always come back.”
Social media platforms have of late been awash with warnings for people to be on alert when in town as the street children, usually armed with knives and razor blades, have been attacking people in broad daylight and robbing them of their money and other valuables.
But National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera in an interview Friday said while some street children are involved in criminal acts, some of the social media warnings are alarmist.
He said: “There is only one murder case connected to street kids, and not two as social media reports portray.”
Kachotsa explained that the street children arrested in connection to the murder in Limbe, who allegedly attacked and killed a businessperson on his way home, have been sent to Mpemba Reformatory Centre and Chilwa Reformatory Centre awaiting their trial by Child Justice Court.
The Southern Region deputy police spokesperson said of the 285 street children arrested in July and August, 59 have been taken before court, 155 have their cases being investigated while 18 were released.
She said operations to remove the children from the streets, as ordered by Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati last year, have been ongoing but the children always return to the streets.
Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Director Child Development Affairs McKnight Kalanda in an interview said government is working with various organisations to reach out to street children with counselling and take them off the streets.
He said: “We have been removing the children from streets on a regular basis and putting them in safer homes where they can receive care and counselling. We ask the general public to help us by not giving alms to street children Instead, they should donate the money to organisations that are looking after these kids.
In a separate interview, Principal Secretary (PS) in the ministry Roselyn Makhumula said the ministry receives an annual budget of K73 million towards the management of street children, but hinted the amount is not enough.
Explained the PS: “These are protected funds that cannot be used for any other activity. But we would appreciate if this amount could be doubled or tripled. We need to have a sustainable way of dealing with the street kids.”
She, however, said the ministry has devised a system, strategy and a national plan for dealing with the street children including the establishment of social rehabilitation centres in Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu cities where street kids are kept as they await integration into their families.
In August 2020, Kaliati ordered that street children be removed from the streets by August 30 2020, but this never came to pass.
Her ministry later formed a special committee on the Removal of Street Children, chaired by Youth Net Counselling executive director MacBain Mkandawire to facilitate the process.
Though the minister claimed that the committee had all the necessary resources for the exercise, Mkandawire had stated that the exercise flopped due to lack of funds.
He said in September 2020 that the committee needed about K840 million to be spread equally across the country’s four city councils to execute the exercise and provide for the street children’s upkeep such as food, utilities and toiletries.
According to Mkandawire, the committee’s suggestion included what he described as a “befriending approach” towards the street children or use of enforcement agencies like the police. Government is yet to provide the funding to the committee.
This was not the first time government had attempted to clear the country’s streets of homeless children and beggars.
In 2015, when Kaliati headed the same ministry under the administration of Democratic Progressive Party, she initiated a similar exercise but the street children, including beggars, soon returned to the streets.
But a 2017 report on street children shows that Blantyre had the highest population of street children at 1 800, followed by Lilongwe with 1 200 and Mzuzu with 600.
Charles Masulani of St John of God, who works on rehabilitating street children in Mzuzu, said the children they work with give various reasons for being on the streets.
“The reasons include lack of food, lack of parental care due to absent parents or orphanhood and lack of school fees. The children face various challenges on the streets such as being raped or sodomised, both by their fellow streets children or prominent people who take advantage of them,” he said.
Masulani has since urged government to ensure the children are taken out of the streets permanently and put into safe homes where their rights will not be abused.
“The children are not on the street by choice, they are pushed there by circumstances,” he said.
—Additional reporting by Martha Chirambo, Staff Reporter