Situation assessment of children living and/or working on the streets in Harare and Chitungwiza

Executive summary A significant proportion of children in Zimbabwe live in weakened families and communities where social support is diminishing, impoverishment increasing, and access to health, education and social services are on the decline. Abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), economic exploitation (child labour), orphan-hood, street life and institutionalisation, are some of the conditions that aptly describe or serve as evidence to the vulnerable state of these children. Generally, the prevailing negative macro-economic environment results in a child unfriendly environment that threatens both the survival and development of children.

As part of the process of developing a comprehensive National Strategy for Children Living and/or Working on the Streets, the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, in collaboration with the Harare Task Force on Children Living and/or Working on the Streets and UNICEF Zimbabwe, undertook a study aimed at compiling a comprehensive information base on the plight of children living and/or working on the streets of Harare and Chitungwiza. This assessment was carried out by the Harare Task Force of the Network of Organisations Working with Children Living and/or Working on the Streets, a group of NGOs and other organisations concerned with the welfare of children, and financial assistance from UNICEF. The objectives of the situation analysis were:

To find out why the children are on the streets; To gather information on the family background of these street children; To identify the problems that these children face on the streets; and To formulate and implement appropriate interventions to address the challenges faced by children living and working on the streets. The questionnaire was designed by staff from various NGOs who make up the membership of the Task Force, together with the Department of Social Services. A special team comprising of assigned staff from Just Children Foundation and Streets Ahead were tasked to work with ZNCWC staff in the data collection exercise. Two focus group discussions were held in the city, one at the Presbyterian Children’s Club, and the other at the Streets Ahead Sports Club. The city was divided into 4 zones, with each zone assigned a supervisor and research assistants to identify and interview the street children in their zone. Data capture and analysis was performed using SPSS with consultant assistance from the University of Zimbabwe.

A total of 450 children aged between 0 to 18 years were interviewed for the analysis. Of the 450 children who participated, 427 were interviewed in Harare while 23 were in Chitungwiza. Given that the number of children living and/or working on the streets in Harare is officially estimated at 5,000, the actual number interviewed for this study was clearly under represented. Probable reasons for the shortfall are:

In Harare the study only concentrated on the city centre It is quite possible that not all children were interviewed Only children (any person under the age of 18) were the targets of the study Some children possibly treated the exercise with scorn or did not understand the value of such an exercise and thus were unwilling to participate Most children who were housed at Lucky Street by Just Children Foundation were not included in the survey. (Only children in streets were interviewed.) The findings support that children are on the streets due to poverty and broken homes. More male children than females are on the streets, and the highest number of children for both sexes lies within the 14 to 18 age group. A large number of the children (58%) are relatively new on the streets, having been there for less than a year. Fifty-five percent of the children interviewed had no birth certificates.

Other key findings are as follows:

34% of the children are not full-time on the streets, but rather return home to sleep. Child abuse continues to be a major issue concerning street children. Many had been sexually or physically abused at home and on the streets. Programmes for street children are best directed at the general public and those charged to enforce the law to address negative attitudes and violent practices against street children. Research has demonstrated that no amount of intervention programming designed for street children can be successful unless the community is prepared to respect, protect and provide opportunities to street children. A growing disquiet exists over the numbers of children working and living on the streets. These children have been portrayed, especially in the electronic and print media, as little thieves or criminals in the making. Their moral behaviour is seen as different from other children who are not on the street. The study found that street children do not enjoy being on the streets. They believe continued life on the streets presents a bleak outlook, offering no hope for a future. They in fact requested assistance to improve their situation. Specifically, they requested government’s intervention, believing they have a right to such a demand as they too ‘are citizens of this nation.’ Interviews with street child-care workers revealed that all programmes for street children, be they government run or supported by NGOs, lack adequate funding and skilled personnel, and suffer problems with co-ordination between similar organisations. The study confirmed that street children continue to be treated negatively by the general public and law enforcement agents. Street children are seen as ‘vagrants’, ‘illegal vendors’, ‘thugs’ or ‘truants’ by both the law and the public as a whole. Focus group discussions confirmed that many people view street children as irresponsible youth who are criminals in the making. Most of the children left home to look for ways to earn an income or because of poverty at home (35%). It is, however, important to understand that poverty is not the main reason why children resort to the streets. Poverty alone will usually not make a child prefer the street to his/her home. The immediate causes in fact ranged from abuse (sexual or physical), death/abandonment by guardian/parent, to family breakdown. It is very difficult to run effective intervention programmes for street children because their problem is a manifestation of profound social and economic situations that do not respond to quick and easy solutions. Programmes that have not considered children’s rights, personal needs and freedom of choice in the provision of services, and those that have addressed the symptoms rather than the casual factors have been characterized by failure. Failure has also characterized programmes that address street children in isolation without looking at the wider contexts of family and community. Reactions to street children tend to be punitive, and anti-social and delinquent behaviour stemming from poverty and lack of care and support is not considered in its proper social and psychological context. Unfortunately, such has been the attitude adopted by some sections of our society. Most children indicated that they would like to return to school. Other assistance requested was institutionalisation in a home/group home and capital to start an income-generating project.

8 September 2004
Full report in pdf format:
Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC)

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