February 22, 2006
Posted to the web February 22, 2006
It is truly an absolute disgrace to have so many children living like rats on our streets.
Like Don MacDonald, we find it very difficult to understand how anyone can remain indifferent to the problem of street children in this country. No matter how much we try to turn a blind eye to this problem, the number of street children is on the rise. This is not an imaginary problem. These children exist in our midst, on our streets - we see them every day. And unless we choose to ignore their plight, we can do something for these children.
It is very difficult for us to understand how possible it is for us, as a nation, to ignore the plight of these children. These children are highly endangered. Many factors of living on the streets combine to rapidly destroy them. Contrary to the policy pursued by some individuals and organisations who believe that we should help these children while leaving them on the street, we believe that they are in a mortal danger on the street and that we should try to eradicate this way of life: on the street, they turn quickly to crime, they start to take drugs or prostitute themselves.
Street children are hungry. If they cannot find food, they will steal it, or the older children will force them to steal. Stealing will become a habit. At the beginning, they may be afraid, they know that if they are caught they will be beaten, maybe killed.
To pluck up courage, they take drugs. Anything is acceptable. They take cheap drugs: they put petrol on an old rag; they sniff carpenter glue. It all depends on the money they can get. These products are extremely dangerous as they destroy the brain, and after years of such drug abuse these poor children can become zombies.
Caught in such a life, children do not have many chances. And if they start living on the street when they are eight years old, they only have a one-in-two chance of reaching the age of 12.
We should take them off the street as soon as possible. If they are helped straightaway, they can be saved. Later, it is probable that as they are used to a certain amount of liberty - even with the difficulties involved - they will go back to the streets, to the drugs and the delinquency. We know that if we do not tackle this problem or if we simply pretend to help or talk without taking action, many street children will die. And the survivors will have a very bleak future.
Of course, to solve this problem in a permanent way, what is needed is prevention, so that new children do not end up on the street. But in the meantime, we must save those who are already there. As in medicine, it is foolish to choose between prevention and treatment, as clearly both are urgently needed.
Street children can be saved and all that is needed is political determination.
It’s very difficult for us to bear the thought that these children, even very young ones, are living and dying in the streets. We know that helping these children to get out of the streets is a tough job. But something can be done if the political will is there. We have no alternative but to do something because we can’t continue to watch these children in a perpetual brutal existence. We are denying these children a childhood. What we see at Manda Hill traffic lights and other streets of our towns and cities paints a very worrying picture.
Without really playing the blame game, we believe it should be the responsibility of government to ensure that these children are given a chance to live decent lives off the streets. But who is government? It is all of us. If this is so, why can’t we collectively do something about this problem? If government belongs to us, why can’t we tell government or force it to do something about this problem?
It seems the problem is that our government is making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood. But what should trouble our minds is that when so many of our children are growing up hungry, lonely and unhealthy, we should be ashamed that we have failed to deliver on the promise of childhood.
The consequences of not paying attention to the problems of these children do not need to be overstated. Meeting the Millennium Development Goals depends on reaching these vulnerable children across the breadth and width of our country. There cannot be lasting progress if we continue to overlook the children most in need - those on the streets, the poorest and most vulnerable, the exploited and the abused. Be that the indisputable reality, over 750,000 of our country’s children are vulnerable and 75,000 of these live on the streets. These children do not have homes, they only have food at the mercy of almsgivers and they spend cold nights on the streets. These are children who do not have any hope of getting an education. These are children whose future has been shattered.
When looking at this problem, what we should note is that it is less a factor of income than of basic rights. And this is why we urge our government to adopt a human rights based approach to social and economic development, especially as it is related to the plight of children. When making social and economic programmes or policies, our politicians should bear in mind the long-lasting effects on children. Otherwise, these children will continue being deprived of some semblance of a normal childhood. We have to change this and give children a normal childhood, which they should deserve as a matter of right and not a matter of privilege.