Huge rise in number of children living on Mandela Bay streets
By Lynn Williams
THE growing number of street children in Port Elizabeth has come under the spotlight as residents accuse them of housebreaking, theft and petty crimes in different residential areas.
Members of the South African Police Services and non-profit organisations described the increase of street children in the city as disturbing.
The areas where an increase in street children has been noted are Central, Humewood, Summerstrand, Greenbushes, Kabega Park and Newton Park.
Director Ronald Koll, head of the Humewood police station, said more than 10 street children were arrested only a few days ago.
He said the children were committing crimes like housebreaking, snatching handbags, breaking into motor vehicles, pick-pocketing and stealing beach-goers‘ belongings.
“I don‘t know exactly how many kids there are but they live under the Humewood bridge, and the groups are getting bigger and bigger,” Koll said.
“They have to fend for themselves so they become involved in criminal activities. Children as young as 11 already have criminal cases against them.”
Numerous complaints had been received from residents and tourists.
“The police can arrest the children for doing something wrong but then they are back within a few days,” he said.
“A solution would be if the courts sentenced them directly to a place of safety. Our social workers are working on ways to handle this problem.”
Constable Patrick Gqwa, of the Kabega Park police station, said there were more than 50 street children lurking in the area.
Most of them were from Barcelona in Helenvale, and they hung around mostly at Macro, Game, McDonalds, Spar and Engen.
“The police are working closely with social workers to get these kids off the streets,” he said. “We have already started profiling them.”
Claims that girls under 18 were prostituting themselves in the Greenbushes area were also being investigated.
The girls allegedly waited for “customers” along Tembani Road in Greenbushes.
Kabega Park police face similar problems of child criminals in the area.
The department of social development will hold an urgent meeting in Port Elizabeth tomorrow to address ways of curbing the rapid increase of street children in the city.
Dr Trudy Basson, director of non-profit Maranatha, said she hoped solutions would be found at the meeting.
“It‘s very difficult to determine how many street children there are because they are constantly moving around,” she said. “More than 170 street children moved through the Siyakathala shelter last year.”
Basson said all efforts to get the children back to school had failed as the streets were where they earned their living.
“They become involved in criminal activities because there is no role model on the streets and they have to survive,” she said.
Gcobani Maswana, spokesman for the provincial department of social development, could not give statistics for the number of street children in the province. He said the problem could be solved with the help of the health and education department and NGO‘s.